Accelerators can serve as an invaluable tool to help your business scale successfully on a faster timeline. However, with so many programs out there, with a majority of them highly competitive, choosing one and completing the application can feel very daunting.
Pulling from insights shared during a recent StartOut and Techstars event, here are 6 tips to help you thrive during the application process.
1. Team, Team, Team
Often you will hear that team is the most important factor when accelerator applications are being reviewed. This does not mean that you already need a team of 25 behind you, but you do want to showcase the talented folks working on your idea. Applications should introduce you and your co-founders and clearly describe why you have the combined skills to make your company a success.
It is not a requirement to have a co-founder, but without one, it makes things more difficult. You will need to be very explicit in explaining how this is not a weakness. You may even want to consider seeking a co-founder before applying. For example, if you are a developer you may want to bring on someone with a strong business development or marketing background. There are online platforms dedicated to finding co-founders and you can also attend networking events and join founder communities.
2. Do your research
Your application will stand out if you can clearly demonstrate why this specific accelerator is the right fit for your company. Therefore, take your time to do research about the organization, programming offered, and the community they have built. After doing this, you should have clear reasons why this program and why right now. When considering the benefits of a program, determine what resources you are most excited to take advantage of beyond any provided funding. If capital is your primary motivator for the program, then you may really be seeking to raise a round, not to participate in an accelerator. The program will want to know that you are excited and willing to learn from the experiences and mentorship they are offering.
There are a lot of free resources available to help you prepare to apply as well. For example, many accelerators have info sessions and application workshops. There are many founder communities online that offer mentorship and office hours, as another means to get support as you prepare your application. There are also pre-accelerator programs, targeted to earlier stage companies, that can help you continue developing your company to get ready for an accelerator. Most often these programs do not provide funding, so you won’t need to worry about giving up equity to participate.
Finally, research the level of commitment that the program will require and ensure that it is something you will be able to take on. As a growing company, your to-do list is already several pages long, so you will likely need to re-prioritize some tasks so you can focus on the accelerator. Keep in mind that you will only be in the program for a few months, so you want to have time to use the resources to scale while you can.
3. Share the problem and your passion
In your application, two of the biggest points to share are what problem you are solving and why you are the right person to do it. When sharing your problem, be sure to share its scope and the market your solution will serve. In many cases, there will be multiple founders working to solve the same issue. Therefore, it is also important to explain why you have the right solution to this problem and why this is the right time to scale it. Relatedly, you may want to demonstrate the speed with which you will be able to scale your solution, ensuring that you will beat competitors working in the same area.
One of the most important strengths a founder has is the passion they bring to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. Therefore, you want that energy to come through, even in a written application. You want to share not only the skills you have to make your business a success, but also your commitment to your company’s mission.
Finally, as you think about your application, look ahead to the future. If the accelerator will be taking equity in your company, then you won’t just be associated for the length of the program, this will become a lifetime relationship. Therefore, showing that you are future-focused can go a long way in instilling confidence through your application.
4. Clearly demonstrate your progress
Accelerator programs are designed to help scale your business over a short period of time. Therefore, in your application you want to be able to show what you have already done and what you plan to do, demonstrating that you are ready. It is critical to know the numbers of your business and be able to explain them. These numbers should tell a story of what you have already accomplished, in order to demonstrate your ability to execute. For different businesses, your early success can be measured in different ways, so whether it is through sales, a long waitlist of future users, or contracts with B2B clients, you want to show the traction you have. Your application should also include a plan to scale. Even if this plan pivots throughout your program, showing that you have a roadmap can signal that your company is at the right stage to join.
Every company has weaknesses and it may feel natural to want to try to hide those within your application. However, with seasoned reviewers looking at hundreds or even thousands of applications per year, it is unlikely that those problems will slip by their trained eye. Therefore, it is better to be upfront about your weaknesses and how the program can help you solve them. Turn it into an opportunity for progress, rather than a downfall.
5. Networking can set you a step ahead
Networking, when organic, can help you make connections and be remembered. If you have questions during the application process, don’t be afraid to connect with the program team before applying. Additionally, you can attend office hours and events, and sit on panels as other ways to get your name and company out there. With permission, you can also add managing directors to your company updates so that they can stay up to date on what you are working on. You can also join founder communities to connect with others working in the ecosystem. There are communities based on industry, stage, and founder-identity which can give you a headstart in finding a community you have a lot in common with. For example, StartOut is a community for LGBTQ+ founders and investors to connect and find support. The key with this approach is to ensure you are genuine. You don’t want to start sending mass emails to program alumni or asking questions for the sake of being heard. You are much more likely to make a positive impression when you build authentic connections through your passions and interests.
6. It is never too early to apply
It is natural to want your application to be absolutely perfect, but don’t let that hold you back from applying. Techstars often tells founders that it is never too early. Many founders that make it into top accelerator programs have applied several times. You can learn a lot about your company just through the process of completing the application. It can highlight your strengths and weaknesses when sharing about your company to external stakeholders. Additionally, applying and not getting in will not reflect negatively on your application the next time you apply. The goal is to get your company in the program at the right time, so the next time you apply you can show your progress and why that makes you an even better fit now.
Founded in 2009, StartOut, a national 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is the largest national organization to support LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs with over 25K members nationwide. Its mission is to accelerate the growth of the LGBTQ+ community to drive its economic empowerment, building a world where every LGBTQ+ entrepreneur has equal access to lead, succeed, and shape the workforce of the future. StartOut helps aspiring LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs start new companies; supports current entrepreneurs as they grow and expand their existing businesses; and engages successful entrepreneurs as role models and mentors, on its online portal and through targeted events nationwide. For more information, please visit www.startout.org.