Applying To Accelerator Programs
Accelerators are a type of start-up support programme run by innovation centres and enterprise support organisations. They are designed to help entrepreneurs, innovators, technologists and business people thrive.
They are usually specific, short and often fast. The aim of an accelerator programme is to aid an entrepreneur grow as fast as possible within a short period of time.
Start-up support programmes, in general are designed to help entrepreneurs refine their solutions, create, checkmate sustainable processes and structures and obtain access to advisors, funding and corporate structures.
Why You Should Apply to Accelerator Programmes
- Access to Networks
Most good accelerators attract premium quantity and quality of entrepreneurs and this makes them attractive to investors, the corporate world, multinationals, and development agencies. They also build a reputation as a place to get innovation, thereby becoming the go-to places for angel investors and venture capitalists.
Getting into an accelerator programme grants you access to these networks and connections.
- Reality Checks
Accelerators provide reality checks for start-ups. Due to the limited availability of support systems, most entrepreneurs learn and do business independently. This allows for significant knowledge gaps that can inhibit a start-up’s capacity to grow.
Accelerators refine the entrepreneur’s perspective, helping businesses to review their value proposition. To give an analogy, accelerators help to identify if the solution a start-up seeks to provide is a vitamin or a painkiller. A vitamin type of solution is something that though good, people can easily do without, while a painkiller type of solution is something that solves a deep and unavoidable need.
- Investment Readiness
This is related corporate governance. Accelerators help to structure the start-up well enough to attract investors. Beyond this, going through an accelerator programme provides the type of initial organisational pattern that makes it easy for a business to go public as soon as it wants.
Accelerators equally provide vital knowledge and insight from advisors and mentors. Start-ups obtain access to expert advisors and mentors who have the advantage of hindsight due to long term experience in the industry.
Asides funding, product credits and access to successful alumni, the exposure to co-entrepreneurs which an accelerator programme affords entrepreneurs is very important. It provides community and significantly improves the entrepreneur’s chances of success.
Elements of Successful Applications
- Clarity: understand the focus and objectives of the accelerator before making an application. Applying to a programme whose core objectives and requirements do not match a start-up’s focus, approach and/or industry significantly reduces the chances of acceptance.
- Simplicity: in writing an application or pitching for admittance into an accelerator programme, the ideas should not be ambiguous or obscure. It is counterproductive to seek to impress through technicalities and unnecessary jargon. Be concise and simple.
- Alignment: visualise the selection committee, understand the requirements and think about what their grading criteria are likely to be, then align your application to the criteria. There are often six key grading criteria in examining an applicant’s pitch:
- It has to solve a problem.
- It has to be unique.
- Market as an opportunity: there are different types of accelerators. One common one is the type that offers funding to start-ups in return for equity. This type of accelerator is intentional about returns on investment (ROI). If the solution being pitched is tailored for a small market e.g. squash players in Nigeria, no matter how good that solution is, the potential for returns is small and therefore might not get into such accelerator programme.
Other types of accelerators look to support high impact projects and this is also relative to a number of people in the target market. If the solution being pitched is tailored to a small market with limited potential for growth, it makes for a poor fit.
- Team: accelerators look for the team’s ability to deploy the solutions being pitched. If an application is to succeed, there has to be an evidence of capacity/potential to deliver.
- Traction: Entrepreneurs seeking to get their ideas into accelerator programmes cannot afford to wait for nudges or external motivation before getting started. Traction may be personal funds already invested into the idea, equipment already purchased, team already built or any other thing that shows vested interest and commitment to success.
- Attitude and team dynamics: most programmes look out for founders that are flexible and willing to learn. An intractable team lead is unlikely to lead a successful team. Any reflection of any such potential makes the application weak and unlikely to get into the programme.
Importantly, concentrate on creating value and value will return to you.