5 Tips When Applying to Startup AcceleratorsBy Evan Batov
5 Tips When Applying to Startup Accelerators
Many founders seek out accelerator programs like Y-Combinator and Techstars to provide the mentorship, resources, and capital they need. However, the odds of being accepted to one of these programs can be astronomical (between 1-2%). Luckily, there are proven ways to increase your chances of being admitted.
I recently sat down with Maya Baratz Jordan, a Managing Director at Techstars, to talk about some important tips she has for startups applying to any accelerator. Check them out below.
1. Showcase Your Team
According to Baratz, accelerators will always look at the team first when considering companies to invite to their cohorts. While Techstars and other accelerators also evaluate product and market, Baratz points out that the product usually evolves but the core team is the only thing that remains the same. Additionally, the founding team helps set the tone and culture of the company and ultimately its pathway to success.
Baratz also highlighted the importance of finding the right co-founders; in fact, she believes this is the most overlooked part of building a startup. “You cannot just look for someone on paper, based on a resume or a CV,” says Baratz. Finding a co-founder is like looking for a partner, not like looking for a co-worker. To successfully work together, co-founders must enjoy spending time with each other, even outside of “work hours.”
Finding the right co-founder not only impacts the process of geting the company or idea funded, but it ultimately has resounding impacts on customer acquisiton and scaling. As early stage investors, accelerators look for teams where the co-founders demonstrate a strong interpersonal fit.
Bottom Line: The team is a representation of your product’s values and your visions. Make sure it’s a good one.
2. Seek Mentorship
Accelerators look for founders that not only have expertise in the problem they are trying to solve, but also that know when to seek out mentors where they don’t personally have all the answers. As Baratz points out, seeking mentors is about more than just reaching out to different groups and incubators – it’s also about getting the right mentors that align to your company’s goals: “you want investors and mentors who care about what you’re working on, and who you can be very open with about any challenges you’re facing.”
While Techstars and accelerators like it pride themselves on their ability to cultivate mentor relationships, they also look for founders that have demonstrated an ability to take full advantage of mentor relationships.
Bottom Line: Show that you are eager and able to seek out help from beyond your boundaries.
3. Know Your Pitch
This doesn’t mean knowing your “elevator pitch” or 60-second value prop. It’s even simpler. It’s about being able to effectively describe your business in 1-2 sentences. Many interesting companies out there just don’t know how to describe themselves well.
As Baratz noted, “it’s pretty hard to describe an immense piece of work or idea in a very limited amount of time.” Techstars looks for companies that can quickly describe the impact of their products on peoples’ lives, rather than the technical details of the product itself. Baratz encourages founders who are applying to accelerators to focus on the big picture and long-term goals in any pithy description of the company.
Bottom Line: Understand how your company impacts lives; and practice communicating concisely!
4. Don’t Use Accelerators for Money
“You should never take money at faith value,” said Baratz. But what does that mean?
Baratz believes that founders should focus on where their money is coming from, not how much money they’re raising. “Folks that invest in you should align with your visions,” says Baratz.
Another question founders often ask is when to raise capital. Baratz believes that many founders seek capital too early. When accelerators are evaluating startups, they want to understand what the founders plan to use any capital that they raise for. If the founders don’t know exactly how they plan to allocate their capital, it is often seen as a warning sign to accelerators like Techstars.
Bottom Line: Be mindful about when you raise; ideally, you should be raising when you need funds to achieve something you can’t achieve on your own. And that always depends on the company. Be able to communicate what you plan to use capital for to any accelerators you apply to.
5. Know Your Traction
Accelerators like Techstars want to understand if the product and market are viable. Traction serves as a point of proof that a company will be well received in the market it is addressing. Of course, if a founder has only only been working on a company for a month or two, is is unlikely to have the same level of traction as a company that has been operational for 2 years.
When applying to an acclerator, it is important that founders can cite and understand the significance of each of their metrics that show traction. This not only highlights that the company is viable, but also demonstrates the founder’s control of the business.
Of course, traction is not defined the same way for every company. It can mean number of active users, revenue, or even the advisors that a founder has brought on board. Strategic partnerships often highlight a company’s traction at these early stages as well.
Bottom Line: Know how to define traction for your company and what it means long term.
I hope you enjoyed reading the tips I brainstormed with Maya Baratz on applying to accelerators.
For founders focused on media, entertainment, and connectivity, Baratz is running the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, Powered by Techstars. This program will run from July through October of this year, and applications are open until April 8th.