It’s important that founders ask the right questions before signing up
A lot of people think there are too many accelerators and incubators. And I happen to agree.
It’s pretty much a given that, along with some level of financing, you’ll receive desk space. But what value are you getting in exchange for handing over that equity stake? Here are seven things you should look out for in choosing whether to join an incubator or accelerator.
The chances of you being at exactly the same stage as other startups within the accelerator is very slim and your businesses certainly won’t be the same, so don’t accept a one-size-fits-all approach to the support you receive. While an accelerator has to make their support scalable, they should also be tailoring that help to your specific needs, not adhering to a ‘cookie cutter’ approach. Does the accelerator offer a more nuanced support program, tailored to your business’ needs?
2. Too much too soon?
Entrepreneurs in a program often get thrown into the wild with countless invitations to events each night which can lead to being overexposed too early, an easy way for founders to lose track of priorities when they should be laser focused on their goals. While early stage startups should establish their network, their focus should always be on building the best product possible. Find out whether the program is designed in a way that makes you, “Focus on the key thing, focus entirely and shut down everything that blocks you from that,” as U.S. entrepreneur and author Gary Keller says.
From our own research, we see that accelerators are being too light touch, giving sporadic advice to startups to then leave them hanging. We nickname them ‘get in, get out’ programs and it’s likely they won’t live up to the expectations they set from the outset, which could damage your growth.
Accelerators are a community-driven model and we decided to reconsider the accountability structure by introducing an ‘internal sponsor’ to each portfolio company. This senior Founders Factory member acts as an advocate, responsible for holding the startup and the accelerator accountable and keeps everyone on track to reach their goals. Find out the cadence of the support offered in the program by speaking off record to previous cohorts.
4. Mentor dynamic
Stories of mentors offering poor advice and being hard to reach are out there, so pick programs where you’ll have accessible mentors who understand your business, rather than generic advisors who are accessible. Ask for a clear list of the advisors you’ll get to work with and how frequently. Consider requesting a one pager on the type of support they’ll offer you.
5. Network strength
Validating your product with an external audience is crucial and something you should expect from any accelerator program worth its salt, particularly if you’re early stage. As a corporate-backed accelerator, we are able to leverage the expertise and audiences of our corporate partners for startups within their vertical. Our MediaTech partner for instance, Guardian Media Group, has become a development partner for Vidsy, a platform that creates short form branded video content for social media, as a way to test new ad formats. It is important to figure out how an accelerator will help you with market validation.
6. Brand credibility, value and competence
What right does the team actually running the accelerator have to advise you on building a company? It sounds obvious but we see so many accelerators being run by people who haven’t even founded a business. The reputation of the team backing you will bolster your credibility, which is vital when building relationships with press and investors. Has the team been there and done that? Are they building businesses now? Will they understand what you’re going through?
7. Access to investors
One of the biggest value adds of a quality accelerator program is access to investors. Many accelerator programs offer ‘demo days’ at the end of each cohort and, while these can be incredibly rewarding for both parties, we believe it’s important to deliver bespoke investor introductions according to the needs of both parties, spread out throughout the time startups spend with us (and beyond). This approach means the right investors (from a diverse pool) are connected with the right startups for their area of interest. Don’t be afraid to ask for details on the pool of investors and how you’ll be connected to them.
The views expressed are of the author.
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