Owners of startups often think that the value of participating in an accelerator program is to increase their chances at receiving funding. They spend months working on their pitches and all the hard work culminates with demo day, their big shot at seeking big money.
Although access to funding is one way accelerator programs such as mine, Techstars, provide value, they can provide far more than that. Entrepreneurs need to find partners, customers, employees and other players to help them build their businesses. They want to talk to other businesspeople who have faced similar challenges and learn how they overcame them. They desire access to C-level players at a major Fortune 100 company yet their entire organization is smaller than the administrative staff of a C-level contact.
The true value of an accelerator program doesn't just lie in the three months leading up to demo day. It's about what starts the day after. Entrepreneurs often say this is when the real work begins. Companies emerge from accelerator programs and do truly amazing things when their founders have been able to leverage the value of the associated network: investors, alumni, mentors and corporate sponsors with relationships with almost all the Fortune 1000.
Here are some ideas to get started:
Don’t just think about alumni in terms of people from other companies in your class, but also those in the classes before yours. Do you know who they are, what they do and how to reach them? They likely have experienced many of the issues that you're facing and could be a great source of advice.
Be sure to build meaningful relationships with mentors while participating in an accelerator program. If those ties are deep enough, they can last a lifetime. Don’t consider such relationships as ending after demo day. Keep working at making them stronger.
Learn how to leverage the network to find the investors who are right for you. First determine who they are. Then use the resources at your disposal to gain an introduction.
Even if you aren’t at an accelerator that's run in conjunction with a corporate sponsor, there may be other such companies involved somehow with the network. Find out what other relationship the accelerator has that you can leverage. These are the companies that you want to build partnerships with. Who knows? One of these companies might want to acquire yours some day.
Accelerators that run programs along vertical themes in conjunction with a corporate partner can provide additional benefits. A cohort of companies operating in the same space can provide meaningful help to one another.
Corporate partners often provide mentorship, with relevant insight derived from their industry experience and connections. And access to executives within the corporation involved provides even more opportunity for business development or investment activity. Finally, access to mentors and investors who specialize in the chosen vertical can layer on additional domain expertise. All this acts as a tremendous force multiplier for the entrepreneur involved.
Accelerator participants who are the most successful leverage the tools, resources and connections to seek great advice and turn cold leads warm. It's a community, one nutured through symbiotic relationships. At Techstars, the motto is "give first." If you live by that approach, the network will respond when you have a real ask.