Graduates of Top Startup Programs Are More Likely to Succeed
It's a great time to launch a startup -- but you have to make sure yours stands out.
Israeli tech is hot — blazing, even — with companies raising $11.9 billion in the first half of 2021 — more than for all of 2020. This also means that demand for talent is outstripping supply, and more professionals are flocking to tech firms’ high salaries and world-class perks.
It's the perfect atmosphere for talented individuals and teams to try their hands at new ventures — establishing startups that will bring new technologies and services to the market. But while the opportunity to succeed is there, startup founders need to realize that the journey will be difficult. Despite the huge investment opportunities available, there is still a much greater chance that a venture will fail, rather than succeed.
To increase the odds of success, entrepreneurs should seek out help. One way to do this is to join one of the many tech business-building programs, including incubators and accelerators, where founders will get training and mentoring on improving their product, navigating the market and other skills to help ensure that their venture makes it to the next level.
While there are many programs to choose from, startups need to be careful about which one they join. If you want a world-class education, you do your best to attend a world-class university. And if you've founded a startup that you hope will achieve world-class status, you want it to be part of a world-class startup program.
The analogy is apt. Not surprisingly, graduates of top universities are more successful (getting better jobs and higher salaries) when they enter the job market — so it stands to reason that graduates of top tech programs will be more successful when they seek out investments or customers. This is something I have seen myself, and it is increasingly backed up by real-world examples and data.
A recent academic study found that graduates of top accelerator programs raised up to 171% more funding than similar startups that did not complete an accelerator program. But just like talented students need to find the right university for their academic goals, startups need to determine if the program really can help them move their companies ahead.
Those startups that stand out enough to get recruited by top accelerators need to think about which program will provide them with the tools they need to grow and thrive. What makes a startup program “world-class?” What should startups be looking for before they sign on?
The technology or service developed by a startup may be great, but unless it's on the radar of customers, investors or partners, it's likely to remain a secret. A good startup program will provide members with advice and guidance on how to get the attention of customers and investors: how to market a product and how to approach design partners a startup wants to work with. That advice, along with connections in specific fields, can be provided by a program's network of experienced alumni working in various industries. A strong alumni network — graduates of a startup program employed in tech and corporate roles — will provide real-world insights that will help startups succeed. The advice startups get from alumni in the field will help them deal with problems and issues — both anticipated and unanticipated — that arise and provide insights that can only be obtained through real-world experience.
Just as essential as telling its story, the startup needs to understand its own story — because the better it understands what it is trying to do and how that can be accomplished, the better it will be able to make its case to others. Startup programs need to provide mentors — both business and tech-focused — that will help founders and staff understand the market, their competition and their own role in the market and the economy. Statistics show that mentored startups grow three-and-a-half times faster and raise seven times more money than non-mentored startups; the better the mentoring program, the more successful a company will be.
What specific things should startups expect from a mentoring program? Among the most important would be guidance on avoiding the things that could cause a startup to fail. Among those things are misreading the market and developing something no one is interested in buying or investing in; team disharmony, mistrust and personal friction; failure to understand or comply with regulations; an unsustainable business model; burnout; and many more. As they help startups avoid the situations that lead to failure, mentors should be educating them on how to succeed: how to read the market and ensure harmony between entrepreneurs, employees and investors, and provide strategies for dealing with overwork and burnout.
Mentors can also help with practical things as startups grow, like when to hire key employees, what security standards should be considered, how to close the first few deals and how to deal with scaling up.
Startups often have great ideas for products and services, but their technology needs to be tested and vetted. A good startup program will help startups do just that by connecting them with top professionals who have years of experience working with the tech a startup is developing. To make those connections, of course, the program needs to have strong relationships with top tech companies in a wide variety of areas. Using those connections, the program can arrange for mentorships and partnerships with top figures in a field as well as proof-of-concept demonstrations with heads of departments and advanced teams. Programs can thus help startups develop the best technology feasible and ensure that their products and services work properly.
The challenges in building a successful startup are great, but entrepreneurs don't have to be alone; others have traversed this path and emerged winners. A good startup program will marshal the resources of program graduates, industry players and insiders, veteran investors and other “significant others,” putting them at the disposal of program members.
Behind every startup is a story — about changing the world, reinvigorating an industry, helping people do things better, more efficiently, more economically. Being able to express that clearly to customers, partners and investors is essential. A world-class startup program will provide training in communication, teaching founders how to tell their story in elevator pitches, conferences, content articles and marketing materials.
Like in academia, the quality of startup programs varies, and the better the startup program, the better the results will be for startups in the skills and capabilities they develop, the connections they build and their eventual success. But before joining a program, startups should closely examine the results of previous programs; one way to gauge that is by checking out the awards a program has been nominated for or won from organizations that evaluate startups and programs.
Startups should also speak to graduates about their experiences, and after doing all that, evaluate their options. The university a student chooses is likely to have a major impact on his or her career, income level and eventual success — and the same is true for startups choosing a program.