Not every accelerator is right for your startup. For example, most accelerators require you to set up shop in their space. You want to be sure you and your partners like the vibe and can gain value from the space itself in addition to the program.
Another consideration is the price you’ll pay. How much equity do you have to hand over to the accelerator? Not all accelerators take equity so consider carefully.
Now, once you’ve chosen a great accelerator and been accepted to their program, here's how to maximize your time there:
1. Get the inside scoop. Pick the brains of alumni from the program. They’ve been there and done that, and will have great insight into what activities are worthwhile and what you want to avoid. Keep in mind, this can be very subjective, so speak to at least two or three graduates.
2. Befriend your neighbors. Your fellow startups are one of your accelerator’s greatest assets. Don’t assume that because they work in a different field or are newbies like you that you’ve got nothing to learn from them. Cross-discipline collaboration can be very fruitful for creativity and innovation. What’s more, you’ll often find they’ve already tried many of the things you’re considering doing. Consulting with them can save you a lot of time. Share your experiences too.
You never know where you will meet again. One of our alumni, Medisafe, just announced a seed round investment of a million dollars from an entrepreneur who actually sat and works at the same table with him.
3. Stay engaged. Participate fully in the accelerator’s program -- even the activities that don’t seem to be your cup of tea. You are there to try new things and push the envelope. If you’re not doing that, you’re doing something wrong.
4. Find out what support you can get. Accelerators offer much more than just their program and envelope services like free legal and accounting support. Find out about their alumni network, mentors and investors and strategic business partners. Take advantage of all their wonderful offerings as early as possible and you’ll have time to get the most out if it.
5. Don't rush into securing funding. Don’t rush to get investors. You were chosen from among thousands of startups, meaning that investors will try to give you quick money when your valuation is low. Be sure not to take the first offer you get. You’ll have acquired much more business savvy a month or two into the program and your connections will have grown. Take this time to sharpen your message and presentation skills as demo day approaches. That’s a much better time to reach out for new investments. You’ll probably be able to get much more money for less equity at that stage.
6. Be strategic about your public profile. Yes, it’s great to see your name splashed across media outlets like VentureBeat, TechCrunch, Mashable and AllThingsD, but exposure will serve a far greater purpose as part of a comprehensive marketing campaign. Make sure you know when to launch that marketing campaign and whether your aim is investment or sales, then build your PR plan as part of it.
7. Prepare to pivot. Usually, your initial idea is only an illusion. If you talk to enough prospects and partners, you’ll probably find that the world is much more complex than you originally believed. Don’t be afraid to adjust your solution on the fly as the market’s real pain becomes apparent. Your accelerator is usually the best place to do so.
8. Give feedback. If you want things in your accelerator to work better, don’t hesitate to give feedback to its leaders. They will regard you much more highly if you do so during the course of the program than if you simply kvetch at the end. It is also a way for you to help the next batch of startups. Previous generations probably helped make your program better too.
9. Enjoy your time. Entrepreneurs go through plenty of ups and downs, and that’s true of the accelerator period as well, but a good accelerator is there to help make the difficult days less terrible and the good days even better. Much like college, you’ll look back at this period as one of your startups’ golden ages. So work hard, progress quickly, but enjoy it while it lasts.