ClassPass. Airbnb. Dropbox. Neighbourlytics. Some of the world’s biggest and emerging names in tech went through an accelerator program.
If you nab a spot in the right program, the benefits for startups can be invaluable: business advice and mentorship from startup experts, introductions to customers and investors, and the camaraderie of other founders in the program. But finding the right program is hard. The number of accelerators in Australia has exploded over the past few years with variable offerings and success rates.
Here are six critical factors to consider when selecting the right accelerator for your startup:
1. Stage fit
Do you have an idea to build a startup, or do you already have a product in market?
Look for an accelerator that is aligned with your startup’s current stage. For example, BlueChilli specialises in helping aspiring and early-stage founders in the early venture (or, pre-Series A) stage. This is the stage where founders are focused on gathering the proof and making enough traction to prove that their startup is capable of scaling. So, we help founders validate their problem and solution, build and test their MVP with early customers and demonstrate product-market fit. This can be a strong value proposition for early-stage founders, in particular.
An accelerator that specialises in series A stage companies might focus on founders with a working product in-market, proven ROI and early evidence that scale is possible. If you’re in the growth stage, you might look for an accelerator to help you iterate on what’s working and put processes into place to scale even faster. Getting ‘stage fit’ right will ensure your startup gets maximum value and impact out of the accelerator experience.
2. Tech capabilities
Are you a technical founder capable of writing code, or do you need a tech team to help build your product?
The best way to get a product to market fast is to have a clear vision and direction from the founder, a product manager who understands how to most effectively shape the product roadmap, great engineers who can build, test and deploy the right technology, and a hustling team to validate and get feedback from customers. Not every founder has all of these resources or expertise at their fingertips, so understanding the amount of technical support an accelerator provides is important.
At BlueChilli, we specialise in non-technical founders who are domain experts, not coders or developers. Our venture studio includes a team of engineers who can take care of the tech side of your MVP product build – or you might have a full technical team yourself but could benefit from having a product manager to help prioritise the roadmap, or designers to work on delighting users with the interface.
3. Industry fit
Are you solving a problem that one particular industry faces?
Accelerators focused on the same industry as your startup can help turbocharge your industry knowledge, contacts and future business development opportunities. Corporate accelerators, in particular, can be an efficient way for founders to gain insights from industry experts and strategic partners, because their interests will align with the problem you are solving. Additionally, highly engaged corporate partners could help founders secure pilots to demonstrate traction and help attract investment.
What professional skills do you need to develop?
From CEO to head of sales, travel agent and IT helpdesk, startup founders wear many hats, oftentimes simultaneously! Regardless of the depth and breadth of your experience, all founders need good advice and strong mentors to help develop the right technical and interpersonal skills to usher their business through each phase of growth.
Since BlueChilli focuses on early stage startups, we have developed a curriculum that touches on almost all aspects of running a business, from product development to marketing to leadership skills. Bespoke mentoring sessions with entrepreneurs-in-residence and program advisors allows founders to dive deeper into areas of professional development that they would like to improve upon.
Do an honest self assessment of your skill set before you start your search, then look for a program with experts on staff that complement the areas that you would like to improve on during the accelerator.
5. Time commitment
How much time am I required to spend on accelerator activities?
Time is your most precious resource, so get a clear understanding of an accelerator’s time commitments. At BlueChilli, we have found our most successful startups tend to have founders who focus full-time on their startup and the accelerator.
Founders meet for in-person immersions over two days once a month and follow a weekly online course. Additionally, founders meet with their product managers, designers, engineers and entrepreneurs-in-residence on a regular basis to ensure progress is being made. Of course, all of this is done at the same time as founders are doing business development, interviewing customers and focusing on future investment opportunities.
Building a startup is more than a full time job, but carving out dedicated time to get the most out of your accelerator is critical.
6. On-going support
What support will I get from an accelerator once the program finishes?
An accelerator is an intense experience aimed at preparing founders to be successful CEOs. It can be hard to transition from the “safety” of a program overnight. Look for a long-term partner who can offer advice well after the program, like when it’s time to fundraise or recruit.
Get in touch with alumni and ask them about their experiences during the accelerator, but also make sure to enquire about the support they have received post accelerator. The level of support will vary depending on each founder’s experience and needs, but they should all be receiving support as a member of the accelerator alumni community.
Startup accelerators are built on years of experience helping founders grow their businesses, and they can be an amazing opportunity for founders to seriously accelerate growth – but it’s critical to do your research before signing on the dotted line.
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Matthew Werner is a Program Director at BlueChilli. He is an entrepreneur who founded an education management business in Paris and the United States, focusing on leadership development, corporate innovation and entrepreneurship. Passionate about innovation, Matthew has worked to connect large corporations with the startup ecosystem in Europe, Asia and the US.