Accelerators help early-stage, growth-driven companies validate their concept, acquire early customers, and get on the path for growth. They span a limited time, typically three to six months, are cohort-based, and end with a demo day to an audience. As a founder, you want to know what to expect when you apply to an accelerator.
The right accelerator can get your venture to a point you wouldn’t have reached alone, or at least not in such a short period of time. They provide invaluable connections to mentors and potential investors. And they connect you to service providers like law firms who may offer discounted packages to founders. Additionally, starting a company is often isolating and lonely, and the camaraderie of reaching milestones with peers is a significant benefit.
There are a lot of advantages to an accelerator, but programs vary quite a bit. Here are some considerations to look for when evaluating accelerators.
Strength of the curriculum
Examining the curriculum and support offered can be more informative than what stage the accelerator says they’re for. You should be able to get a copy or outline of the curriculum ahead of time. Do the topics and sequencing make sense? Does it seem to be a good fit for the kind of company you want to start? Are there formal or informal assignments to complete during the program?
Quality of mentors
The recruiting and retention of mentors may be handled centrally by the accelerator, or mentor relationships may be maintained separately in each city where the program operates. Ideally, the accelerator chooses a strong cross-section of mentors who are active in industry, have a lot of experience to impart, and can work effectively with founders.
Make sure that the mentors have received results in the areas you need counsel on, whether that’s tech, sales, go to market, or building or scaling a team. Look at the current line-up of mentors, including past mentors when possible.
The program should also provide guidance to founders to help you interact with mentors and process their feedback. You can also look at the quality of partners, such as law firms and accounting firms, who are affiliated with the program.
Success of alumni
The accelerator should provide statistics or success stories indicating what sort of progress graduates have made after finishing the program. In addition, they should have information on the total number of companies, funding obtained, percent active or acquired, number of jobs created, and their market cap.
They should also be willing to introduce you to one or more alumni from the same city or in a similar sector who can share their experience with the program. This may take the form of personal introductions on request, or scheduled events that prospective founders may attend.
Ongoing support and community
What kind of formal or informal community or support does the program provide to graduates? Do they have other programs available only to graduates? Exclusive networking opportunities that are only available to graduates? An invite-only Slack channel?
Clear pricing model
An accelerator should be very clear about their pricing and business model, such as whether they charge a program fee or take equity in graduates. It’s not about which of these is better—they should just be upfront about it so you can make an informed decision.
Alignment with your company’s stage
If you’re in the pre-seed stage, and not sure of your idea yet, you’ll want to look for an accelerator that can help you grow from there and that will have some others at a similar stage. If you’re a bit further along in the process—you’ve decided on your concept, done some user research, and maybe even have an MVP—you’ll want alignment with that stage.
It’s possible that the same accelerator could accommodate both stages, but they should be able to explain how they balance it. More accelerators are favoring later-stage startups that already have revenue and are looking to scale faster. Regardless of your stage, you want to make sure that the accelerator can help you get to the next level.
Learning more about accelerators
There are hundreds of startup accelerators worldwide, ranging from global accelerator brands that operate chapters in many cities, to highly localized and niche oriented offerings. A few of the largest accelerators include:
To help figure out if an accelerator is high quality—and the right fit—look at their curriculum, the quality of mentors, the success of their alumni, what kind of post-accelerator support and community they offer, their pricing and business model, and their alignment with the stage of your company, whether it’s pre-seed or later stage. You want to choose an accelerator that has their act together, but it’s just as important that it’s the right fit for you.
Author: Nina Post