Let me cut to the chase:
MOST are businesses selling you services, using you as their product, to promote their brand while leveraging the word “accelerator.”
As you consider such programs, head into them first being clear about what Accelerator means and validate that they actually do that.
Then look to what the founders and Directors of the Accelerator are doing on a day-to-day basis. How much are they working for you or for themselves? That’s a difficult question to discern through, as their work on the Accelerator can (should) be work on your behalf…
Is the work they are doing actually resulting in the impact an Accelerator should have on founders and startups?
And that question is a bit of a trick question. *oof, this isn’t easy, is it?* Keep in mind, startups FAIL. It’s kind of their thing. Startups fail so that established companies don’t have to take such risks, and in doing so destroy jobs and shareholder value. So, that being a role of startups, that means that in Accelerators, startups WILL fail. Measuring the effectiveness of an Accelerator on their rate of successful startups isn’t really fair; and yet it is….
What then do you look for in making sure Accelerators are actually working for you???
Just so my thoughts are explicitly clear: Accelerators are incredibly valuable resources in our economy. The challenge we have is that many (way too many) are just selling you services (monetizing YOU) – office space, developer resources, a private network of mentors (for which you pay in equity), paid classes – or even selling you the “service” of developing you as a Product… which they then leverage to attract more sponsors, underwriting, etc.
So, are they actually working for you or are you working for them?
To answer that question you might tease out what’s valuable about Accelerators from what’s not valuable (or even detracting from your experience). Here’s the list I’ve experienced worth some merit; I’d love comments/feedback about whether or not you think I’m missing anything.
Most Valuable in a Startup Accelerator
- Dedicated team space in an environment with industry peers. Access to the other pertinent resources: conference room, teleconferencing, places for calls
- Directly booked meetings with VCs and Angels with a brief provided by the accelerator so that the meetings aren’t cold starts
- Advisors more than mentors – People who are executives in companies that are pertinent; former founders and CEOs of related companies. Mentors teach; ideal for incubators. It’s time to go, need that advice and connections.
- Set up of industry or regionally relevant stories with the press wherein the startup or team is pertinent
- Meaningful corporate connections and partnerships – less so the typical startup resources many companies make available through every program
- Low/No cost access to the other Human Resources the startup might not yet need full time: Legal, Accounting, CFO
- Valid and experienced criticism with advice and direction
- Unlimited scope networks. Advisors, investors, and partners ideal for my venture are almost certainly NOT within the close circle of the Accelerator. Google and LinkedIn are our friends – you CAN find and meet them on your own – the Accelerator should be making the right connections where ever they might be.
Least Valuable in a Startup Accelerator
- Cattle call mentor or “investor” office hours
- Pitch events that are just showcases for the accelerator brand
- Only shared workspace coworking; particularly if it’s a generic program and we’re all sharing space together and aren’t even doing similar things
- Misleading intentions or lack of clarity –
- Is this really an Accelerator or is it more like an Incubator?
- Are the people running it actually involved and working with us out there promoting their thing?
- Be completely transparent about the business model. Is the Accelerator really working on behalf or selling us office space?
- Classes from agencies and service providers… eh. Startup dedicated and experienced consultants are great, executives who have and do specifically what we’re covering are helpful.
- Negative and unproductive feedback, a mere “no” or “focus on customers” platitudes aren’t helpful
- Limited scope networks. Is this a member club where the only advisors and investors who we’ll get access to with the Accelerator’s help are close confidants, friends of the family, and worse: anyone paying for the privilege