Accelerators Demystified: From Application to Demo Day

Accelerators Demystified: From Application to Demo Day
If you're looking to take your startup from MVP to product market fit in minimal time, then applying to an accelerator program could be one of the best decisions you ever make. By having a better understanding of the value of an accelerator program, as well as how to get accepted into one and make the most of your time there, you can make the right decision for your growing business.

Worth the Investment of Time?

Essentially, an accelerator program is one that is set up by an organization to help mentor, teach, and network you businesses and founders in a way that facilities rapid growth and scaling. These programs can help your company grow significantly in a very short period of time as a result of the many mentoring and networking opportunities involved. Specifically, these programs give you the opportunity to network with potential investors, as well as assisting you in meeting the right people to scale your business (legal support, accountants, etc.). Most accelerator programs will provide some level of investor assistance as well.

Before You Pick the Accelerator

It is important to realize that not all businesses that apply for an accelerator program will be accepted, which is why choosing the programs you apply to wisely and carefully completing your application are so important. Realize that the accelerator model in business has grown substantially in a very short period of time. In fact, as little as a decade ago, there were less than a dozen accelerator programs in the entire world. Today, there are so many options and programs that it can be difficult for founders to determine which is right for them. Fortunately, by taking the time to ask some key questions and reflect on your own company's goals, you can ultimately decide on the right program(s) to apply to. Start by assessing the structure of any given program, as well as how much support you can expect to receive on a weekly or monthly basis. Does this align with your company's needs? Furthermore, depending on your industry, you'll also want to find out what kind of networking and mentoring opportunities are available from any given program. Who will be mentoring you and what do they bring to the table?

Tips for Applying to an Accelerator Program

Accelerator programs can be extremely competitive, and your chances of being accepted into one are typically less than 10%. Yes, it’s harder to get accepted to many accelerator programs than a number of Ivy League Universities. For this reason, it's important to bring your absolute best when it comes time to apply for a program. There are a few things that any accelerator program will be looking for in an applicant. For starters, they'll want to know that you can articulate the market fit of your specific product or service. Be able to articulate the problem(s) that your product/service solves and how it does it. Avoid being too technical here, as this is a common mistake made by founders with product or engineering backgrounds. Speaking of mistakes, avoid making the biggest mistake of all when applying for an accelerator program: not being responsive. If you receive an e-mail or other response from an accelerator program asking for more information, don't wait to respond to them. Get back with them as soon as possible to show them that you're serious about the potential opportunity. Waiting even a couple of days to respond (I can’t even comprehend a week) could be enough to make an accelerator assume that you're not very serious about being a part of the program itself.

How to Best Leverage an Accelerator for Success

If you are accepted into an accelerator program, then you'll want to do everything you can to make the most of the experience.  Here are 3 tips to keep top of mind:
  1. One of the best pieces of advice we’ve received from program managers is to follow up with everyone you meet in your new networking circle; even if they don't seem relevant or very helpful to you now, you never know when you might need them in the future.
  2. Whenever possible, continue your relationships with mentors and others you have met from your program long after the program itself has ended. These contacts can be useful for you for many years to come.
  3. Take the time to figure out which mentors, classes, and program benefits are most useful for your business.  You only have so much time to maximize the impact, so it's important to figure out early on what is most applicable and helpful to you.  You’ll also want to avoid information overload.

Avoiding Information Overload as a Founder

When you're in an accelerator program, it's easy to fall victim to information overload and even imposter syndrome. This is very common in founders who may get overwhelmed by the amount of learning in a compressed schedule and feel as though they don't deserve to be in the program. To combat these kinds of negative responses, take time to remind yourself that there's a reason you were accepted into the program and you have plenty of value to bring to the table; you're not "faking it 'til you make it." Remember also that you can lean on your peers and mentors, and having a strong support system while going through such a program is key to not getting too overwhelmed. Overall, an accelerator program can be a great way to grow your business and receive valuable mentoring and networking along the way. If you haven't done so already, now is a great time to start researching accelerator program opportunities that are related to your industry. Being accepted into one could change your life!  

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