How to Jump-Start Your Business With an Accelerator Program

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3 min read

This story appears in the August 2012 issue of . Subscribe »

Mentors With Money

Making connections was priority No. 1 for Aigerim Shorman and Shana Zheng. As founders of Triptrotting, an online community that connects travelers with locals, the pair quickly recognized that startup accelerators could be their ticket to mentorship and funding.

After raising $300,000 in seed money from Pasadena, Calif., incubator Idealab and launching their company last May, Shorman and Zheng applied to Launchpad LA, the Los Angeles accelerator program founded by venture capitalist Mark Suster. Launchpad invests $50,000 in each company accepted into its four-month program and provides business advice, free shared office space and networking opportunities.

Since joining the program in January, Triptrotting has raised nearly $1.5 million more from investors such as Google Ventures and 500 Startups. We spoke with Shorman about her adventures in fundraising.

"You become part of this environment that's trying to make bold moves."
--Aigerim Shorman, Triptrotting

Why did you apply to Launchpad?
We wanted access to more mentors and more investors. Launchpad was one of the big up-and-coming accelerators in Santa Monica, which is becoming an entrepreneurial center here in L.A. We wanted to be at the heart of it. We thought it would be a great opportunity for us to meet people and expand our network.

What was the application process like?
There's an application you fill out on the Launchpad website. You need to have an elevator pitch, a business model and a distribution and marketing plan. They had more than 400 applications for this class. For the final round, we met with managing director Sam Teller and had dinner. Then we got our invitation to join.

How has the program helped you with networking?
They have a speaker series on Monday evenings that really gives us great exposure to successful entrepreneurs, investors and mentors. Everything becomes part of this environment. Even sitting in the open office space, people come in and out every day, and we meet hundreds of people.

So investors just waltz in looking for hot startups to fund?
Pretty much. The whole idea of the program is to get companies funded. It's very bright and open. There are no walls. Most of the conversations happen more or less in open space. Investors sometimes meet with companies right at their desk, after the introductions are made.

We were already fundraising when we joined Launchpad, so it was much easier to talk to investors who came in. And some of our investors--Google Ventures, for example--didn't come to Launchpad, but we met them through an introduction.

What are the other benefits of being part of an accelerator?
The mindset. The caliber of people you're surrounded by makes you realize how much further you could be going and how much you can achieve. You become part of this environment that's trying to make bold moves.

Everyone helps each other out. We will always say, "Hey, what do you think about this splash page? What do you think about this design?"

What advice can you give others interested in accelerator programs?
Obviously, you have to have a great business model and a great idea. But it's also important to have a cohesive team driving the business. High-quality accelerators like Launchpad want teams that are dedicated. People like Mark Suster and Sam Teller can tell if you are just playing around at this or if you are serious.

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