Accelerator programmes are an increasingly popular method for getting a new business up and running, offering startup entrepreneurs access to mentorship, funding and potential investors.
Most accelerator programmes last for several months, in which time the guidance and resources provided can set a startup on the road to success – although there are no guarantees.
As well as providing general training for launching and running a startup, accelerators offer guidance to entrepreneurs on securing investment, giving advice on pitching their venture to potential backers. Most programmes involve a “demo day”, in which participants are given the opportunity to present their startup pitch to investors. Some accelerators also provide direct funding themselves.
The programmes vary in terms of what they offer and some might be more suited to your startup than others. So if you’re thinking of applying to an accelerator, do your research and try to find the best match for your venture. You can search for suitable accelerators on startup “ecosystem” websites such as http://www.f6s.com and http://www.capitallistblog.co.
So what are the key points to look for?
The first and perhaps most obvious criterion for selection is the location of the programme – it must be viable for your business. Next, look into the track record of the accelerator. It’s important you get an idea of what you can achieve, so try to get hold of some results. For example, look for the accelerator’s most notable success stories and see if you can obtain figures for the total funding raised by startups from the programme. You should also try to get an idea of the kind of investors the accelerator can bring to the table.
Of course, you also need to look closely at what the accelerator provides. Access to funding will doubtless be the high among your list of criteria. The financial benefits vary between accelerators and come in different forms. Some programmes offer convertible loan notes or buy equity in your company according to a set valuation. You need to consider how much equity you are prepared to give up and whether you think it will pay off in the long term.
Perhaps even more important is the mentoring offered. Find out who the programme’s mentors are. Make sure they have industry-specific experience for your startup, and that they will be able to help you with the more general skills you need to develop for your venture, such as marketing, branding, business law, etc.
Also try to find out how mentors are allocated. Do participants on the programme get the benefit of all the mentors’ knowledge, or are specific mentors assigned to each startup?
There’s also the time aspect to consider. How long does the programme last, and is it full time or part time? If your venture is still in the planning stage, then a full-time programme might suit you best. However, if you’ve already launched or are in the process of doing so, a part-time programme could be what you need.
Remember, though, there is a high demand for places on the best accelerator programmes, and many startups don’t get selected. So when you’ve made your choice, make sure you put the necessary work into your application to present your startup and team in the best possible way.