Getting the Benefits of a Tech Accelerator Without the Accelerator
Tech accelerators are highly competitive and you might not need one
Launching your own company is tough. And for many startups, acceptance into an accelerator can help provide access to much-needed cash, legitimacy (such as maybe a launchpad to get into more prestigious accelerators) and technical partners and advisors. But here’s the dirty little secret: there are more ways than ever for companies to receive the benefits that some accelerators offer without giving away weeks of time or possibly relocating — not to mention hard-earned equity and intellectual property.
Many entrepreneurs launching new ventures believe joining an accelerator is the key to success — despite the evidence that only 1% to 3% of startups are accepted. Without question, startup accelerators can help drive early-stage growth, although measurable impacts can vary widely by program. Fortunately, even if you’re part of the majority of startups who applied but were not accepted into a program, there are plenty of things you can do to ensure your startup stays on the path to success.
The Mythology of Startup Accelerators
While definitions vary, startup accelerators are generally cohort-based programs that include investment, connections, mentorship, education and a public pitch event to both investors and often the media in order to support and accelerate early-stage growth. Accelerator programs often run over a fixed period, and startups usually join as part of a cohort of companies. From there, programs aim to accelerate the growth process of innovative young companies by immersing them in education, providing founders the opportunity to learn at a rapid pace.
Today, startup accelerators are branching out around the world, playing a significant role in the growth and explosion of entrepreneurial ventures worldwide. In fact, there are more than twice as many tech accelerators today as there were accelerated startups in 2013, and there’s an increasing number of accelerators and incubators funded by private industries such as the utility sector, the nonprofit sector and even with governmental agencies in the United States and internationally.
Many startup accelerators hype their abilities to implement a mechanism of accountability upon entrepreneurs. And this is important, because your company will never reach the goals you’ve set without it. But does a company really need to give up its equity to learn how to both set goals and create consequences for not achieving those goals?
Share the Benefits, Avoid the Hassles
I’ve seen accelerators provide great value in helping develop mentor connections, building peer networks and leveraging best practices. That said, there are things any entrepreneur can do either before or instead of an accelerator experience — and if you do decide to go the accelerator path, these suggestions will only help your journey. Below are some of the hacks that I share with companies.
Best practices have never been easier to access
Truly, there’s only so much information that can be jam-packed into a six- to 12-week accelerator program. Instead, catch up quickly on execution basics and best practices. I recommend books like “Lean Startup” by Eric Reis and “Scaling Up” by Verne Harnish.
There are more accessible resources than ever before on founders’ strategy, guidance and resources surrounding how to navigate the increasing complexities that come with scaling up a venture in order to build a great company.
No matter who you reach out to, be mindful about offering something in return. Don’t focus on what a potential mentor can do for you, but instead focus on establishing a beneficial relationship for both parties.
Be polite and considerate of your mentor’s time — or any time provided by a professional in your field, mentor or not. Take advantage of your mentor’s wisdom and give before you receive. Offer support, introduce people who can benefit from one another and create circumstances everyone can benefit from. Mentors also enjoy extending their network once they get to know and like you
Build your peer network the old-fashioned way — get out there and connect with people to exchange information, contacts and experience. Attend industry-specific networking events. Poke around on LinkedIn for influential people in your industry. Use your social networks as a base and work up from there.
Focus on accountability
Find someone to hold you accountable if your goals are not achieved. Key attributes here include someone who is reliable and equally invested in your success but that you’re not too close with.
Test your idea
Make sure your idea is viable. According to Victor Green, a serial entrepreneur and author of “How to Succeed in Business by Really Trying,” 60% of new businesses fail within the first three years. Google it.
But also get out there and ask real people — both consumers and people who are in the space you want to go into. Get their views and opinions and determine whether your idea will get off the ground.
To wrap up, take the steps to hold yourself accountable, go out and find some mentors and learn some best practices. This approach will ultimately be much cheaper than temporarily relocating your company for the program and giving up a portion of your business’ equity.
Sasha Shtern is a seasoned entrepreneur with deep ties to startup communities around the country. He is the CEO of Zero G Capital, a technology investment firm, and is the former president of Entrepreneurs Organization of Colorado.