We’re in the age of the Accelerator and it seems you can’t open a broom cupboard without someone launching a new Accelerator, Incubator, Venture Lab, Studio and so on. For the purpose of this article I’ll use the term ‘Accelerator’ to capture them all.
The choice of where to be Accelor-rated (new word, go with it) are ENDLESS. Nothing exemplifies this better than a recent post by the good folk over at the Entrepreneur Handbook who listed 181 (yes 181!) Accelerators in the United Kingdom https://entrepreneurhandbook.co.uk/business-accelerators/
The thing is Accelerators aren’t exactly a new concept. You join, undergo some sort of education programme and (hopefully) emerge in better state than in which you started.
Over the last 5 years I’ve had the pleasure of running and working on Accelerator programmes here in the UK and west Africa. I’ve seen some great success, failures and ALOT things which fall in between.
You could say I’ve done my 10,000 hours (shout to Malcolm Gladwell) and I’m now going to attempt to boil down 5 things entrepreneurs should consider BEFORE applying to any Accelerator programme.
The most importance item to consider before even attempting to join any progamme. What are they asking you for? This is often the first issue most people run into. If the programme you join is free you’ll need a clear understanding of what they’ll need you to commit to (in reality, there is no such thing as a ‘free’ programme)
Classroom time? Does your participation require you to participate in classroom/studio sessions around a specific topic, if so, how many?
Are there fixed mentoring or coaching times?
Do they require you to be on site or present at their hub / studio? *any of these factors could be tied to grant/investment access, don’t forget.
Is there any mention made of follow on support, introductions to angels or future customers? (before participating you should really be clarifying what this looks like in practice. Some programmes will purposefully be vague)
I’ve seen the above be the source of many an awkward/challenging conversations. In fact, things such as non-attendance are a sure fire way to dent a relationship with an Accelerator before it’s even begun.
2. Key Relationships 💕
Consider relationships in the same way people consider University choices. Aside from the prestige and history, what special relationships does the programme claim to have? The questions below will help you determine what relationships exist even if you’re not directly told.
Who are they connected to? Who provides the funding? (this is probably one of the biggest indicators of the type of relationships they have)
Who sits on their board/advisory board?
Are there any special relationships to Government or larger companies? (Within this I include any relationships to regional authorities/development agencies)
3. Speciality 🎊
Where have they planted their flag? What do they pledge or claim to be good at? Crucially how is that a benefit to you both directly and indirectly?
- Do they support underrepresented founders?
- Do they focus on companies at scale-up stage?
- Do they have a particular key relationship to a Government department or key customer?
However they define their expertise it will fall upon you to do some discovery about ‘how’ that shows up in their day to day. What do they offer that provides evidence of their specialism?
4. History 📜
Where / what have their recent graduates gone on to do? Take a quick peruse through their alumni page.
Are the companies still active? (bare in mind that an early stage the Accelerator the more likely companies would have folded or pivoted)
What did they do after leaving and what are they doing now?
If reaching out to previous participants ask them what they do differently if given a second chance.
5. Are you willing to Hustle? 🔨
The explosion in the number of Accelerators has been great at expanding access to business support. However, regardless of the previous factors the one key question you must ask yourself is….are you willing to hustle?
As with many things in life, you’ll get out what you’re willing to give. This applies word for word to any Accelerator programme.
- Are you willing to dedicate time and resource to your programme? Do you even HAVE the time or resource to commit?
- Are you willing to push in order to harness the full resources of the programme? That means going above and beyond the limits of what is presented on paper
- Are you open to challenge — whether that be related to your business, idea or thought process?
- Is this ultimately a distraction? Time is precious, more importantly so is your focus. Is this really what you/your business require right now?