Originally written in Issue 1 for The Startup Magazine Premium
With the first few months of the year already behind us, startups have ditched their excess holiday weight and are running full speed into 2015. This means a fresh cocktail of pitch competitions, MVPs and all-nighters. For many, this also is the time of year to consider joining an accelerator.
Popularised in the proverbial Silicon Valley tech melting pot, accelerators have become a mainstay in startup ecosystems all over the world. As caretakers of talented mentors, investors with full wallets and vital press contacts, accelerators have proliferated to virtually every corner of the globe. Early-stage startups looking for an accelerator are often spoiled for choice.
How can you tell an accelerator that will give you the kick start you need from one that will silently slink away with a slice of equity in the dead of night?
I cannot stress enough of the importance of doing your homework before you even think about spending your next three to six months entrenched in an accelerator's community. I am hardly the first person to emphasise how vital research is in your accelerator decision process. The Global Accelerator Network have also written about accelerator match-making.
There are several key aspects to ensure you are headed in the right direction as you look into which accelerator is right for your startup.
Have a clear idea of your desired result
Accelerators are powerful resources that can provide the skills, connections and momentum to grow successfully. To really take advantage of all an accelerator can offer, startups should have a good idea going into a programme of what they want to get out of their next few months. Are you looking for seed funding? Do you want to meet potential partners? Is raising your public profile in a specific community important? Knowing your desired output can help refine the list of accelerators that fit with your startup's goals and vision.
Know your industry
Although all kinds of feedback and coaching is undoubtedly valuable, many accelerators tailor their curriculum to specific industries and stockpile relevant experts as mentors. This provides a targeted and specific approach that can greatly impact your startup's success. Wouldn't it be great to learn from a group of financial allstars if you are a mobile payment startup?
Industry-focused accelerators are also often connected with major brands and companies in their field, forging important relationships that extend beyond the walls of your co-working space.
Build a relationship first
Most accelerators offer a combination of open days, pitch events, conference speaking sessions or office hours. Make sure you try to attend some of these and begin building a relationship early in the process. This is an often overlooked piece of the equation because it is not seen as essential to being accepted into an accelerator.
Your startup could very well get into a program and have a fulfilling few months without ever participating in an accelerator's hackathon, but getting accepted is just a piece of a larger question. Startups should take the time to make sure an accelerator's culture, activity and energy matches their own. At Startupbootcamp, we incorporate relationship building as a fundamental element of our recruitment process. Getting face time with an accelerator is not difficult – make it a priority to get to know the organisation before you apply.
One final thought…
Set realistic expectations for your accelerator experience. No matter which one you choose, it will be a three to six month caffeine-fuelled crash course. Taking the time to choose which accelerator is best for you will make all the difference.