For many in the startup world, accelerators are the end-all be-all to taking a great idea and bringing it to the next level. Some have even started calling them an alternative to MBAs.
If accepted into an accelerator program, it means mentorship, classes and training from those who have been there and done that. In some of the most elite accelerators, it also means access to a cream-of-the-crop network of professionals and investors.
“Being part of an accelerator helped to shape our company vision while putting in place a roadmap to effectively grow our company for great success,” says Eric Levy, founder of YourNeighborhood, which helps people looking to move discover the neighborhood that fits them best. YourNeighborhood recently graduated from the JFE accelerator, one of New York and San Francisco’s successful business-incubation programs.
Accelerators are priceless for those who can get into them. As an entrepreneur, here are some steps to follow to get a spot in the next program:
1. Research accelerators on AngelList. Not all accelerators are a great match for every startup, Levy says. AngelList provides a great directory of accelerator programs, which allows entrepreneurs to filter which ones are the best fit based on location and industry focus. Applying to accelerators directly through AngelList is an efficient and effective application process, as well.
2. Reach out to program mentors and previous participants. There is nothing more important than the right mentor or contact in the startup world. It all begins with a great idea, but can only continue with a great network.
Venture Partner at 500 Startups, Parker Thompson, explains in a recent post, “We also look extra hard at companies that are referred in by our founders and mentors. A personal recommendation from someone we trust isn’t a guarantee you’ll get an interview, but it’s pretty valuable.”
Levy adds that reaching out to program mentors and previous participants of any accelerator you’re looking to target is key. This will help ensure the accelerator is a good match, well-established, and in some cases, will help to provide a warm introduction for the application process.
3. Be prepared for the call. Once that highly anticipated call for an interview comes through it is imperative the team is ready to go. Have a minimal-viable product, a product demonstration and a “blow-their-socks-off” pitch deck that outlines the short and long-term goals for the company, Levy says.
Thompson shares, “The most important skill you can have is the ability to adapt quickly. Tell us what you’ve learned ... Tell us what you’ve done. Unscalable growth is fine (and reflects hustle), but ultimately we’ll need to see a path to scalability.”
4. Get some legal review. So you’ve been accepted into the accelerator -- congratulations! Before the celebration can start, make sure that all documentation is reviewed by legal counsel to protect the interests of both parties.
It’s also critical, according to Levy, to register the company as a Delaware C-Corp -- not S-Corp or LLC. The C-Corp easily allows for issue of company stock and ensures a smooth legal process with accelerators and future investors.
5. Celebrate. Take some time to truly appreciate all the work the team has done and prepare for the bright and intense future that is to come.
“Being accepted to an accelerator is exciting and filled with great emotion,” Levy says. “It was one of the best days in our company's history.”
Just keep in mind it’s the intense passion that will get the team through the highs and lows of the startup world. That is ultimately what should be celebrated, not just on the day the startup is accepted into an accelerator, but every day thereafter.
“Have a sincere passion for what you are doing," Amanda Greenwell, program manager of UpTech in Cincinnati, told Serious Startups. "Not only will your passion get investors excited about your idea but it will get you through the gut wrenching moments of being an entrepreneur.”
Mentorship early on can truly make or break success, which is why entrepreneurs looking for guidance, connections and a network of support may do very well by applying to accelerator programs.