How to Get Into the Nation's Elite Accelerators We've polled advice from some of the leading minds in accelerators on what you need to get started.

By Jason Saltzman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I give advice based on what I have learned. I have been self-employed since the age of 17, so as you can imagine I learned a lot. My grandfather always told me, "Wise people learn from their own mistakes, the wisest people learn from other people's mistakes, and stupid people never learn at all." In this pearl of wisdom, I am nothing more than wise, and I have been through some crazy stuff. One thing I have learned is to surround yourself with really smart people. At an early stage, I commonly advise young startups to look into accelerator programs, mostly because you will be around really smart people.

For those of you who don't know what an accelerator is, it is a fixed-term program with a class of teams working on an idea, and the program includes mentorship and educational components. The program culminates in a public pitch event or demo day. In the nation's top accelerators, you get training from the pros and access to a network that rivals Harvard Business School.

Absolutely amazing companies have come out of these programs, such as DropBox, Airbnb, and Digital Ocean (which recently secured $37.2 million in funding from VC's such as Andreessen Horowitz).

Now that you are hip on the idea of an accelerator, and know that some seriously legit companies spawn from them, I would like to give you some tips from the horse's mouth. I asked my friends that represent the nation's top accelerator programs some advice:

Justin Kan, Partner, Y Combinator:

"Get started building something right away. It doesn't matter if you still have a job, or don't have a cofounder yet. The best way to get the ball rolling on an idea is to leap off of a cliff and force yourself to make incremental progress."

Here's a post I wrote about "how to do anything."

Related: Finding a Voice for Your Brand

Alex Iskold, ‎Managing Director, Techstars New York City:

"Put in the time and make a great application. Articulate your idea as simply as possible, make a great video, explain your business, talk about your background, be transparent and have fun filling out the application.

"Leverage your network, and connect as you are going through the process. Referrals help in any venture business and they help when you are applying to accelerator. Know an alumni? Make sure she puts in a good word.

"Decide what you want to get out of the accelerator before applying. Also decide which accelerator is right for you. Treat it like researching a VC -- figuring out who is the right partner is really important to making sure you actually accelerate your business."

Andrew Ackerman, Managing Director, DreamIt Ventures NYC:

"Show me that you've done your homework. If you can telegraph to me that you've checked DreamIt out, and are sure it's a good fit for you, I'm more confident that the time I spend looking over your application will not be wasted. Let us know that you've talked to prior DreamIt startups (and what they told you that was persuasive), reference the criteria we list on our site (and one or two quick data points to show you meet them). In short, convince me that you aren't just spraying and praying."

This is all awesome advice from the people who help hundreds of startups. If you think I can help you or your business, feel free to hit me up on twitter @SaltzmanJason. Hustle ON.

Related: AlleyNYC Founder on Running a Co-Working Space and Getting in

Jason Saltzman

Startup Mentor, Entrepreneur, CEO of Alley

Jason Saltzman is a seasoned entrepreneur with a background in sales and marketing. Through his role as CEO of Alley and as a TechStars mentor, he advises hundreds of startups, offering real-life practical application and creative marketing advice.  

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