How to use Startup Accelerators to gain maximum benefit

By | December 1, 2015

Startups accelerators are almost everywhere and becoming a common pathway for early stage startups. Though they have been around for a decade, the popularity and need for accelerators are not waning but only growing over period. Though some criticisms may have arised, being accepted by an accelerator and being part of a top accelerator program is considered valuable and as a goodwill for the business.

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Once entered into an accelerator program which generally runs for three months, it is a must to plan things about what one is going to do in the three months of the program. Only planning would help in getting the maximum out of the three-month period. Every selected startup would be bombarded with the same amount of information during the course period, it is up to the startup entrepreneurs to take what they want and let go of what they do not want.  We have looked into the experiences of various startup entrepreneurs who were part of some or other accelerator program and listed down some factors that have to be considered to get the maximum benefit in that three-month period. These pointers would sure be helpful for the startups to get the most out of their startup.

*Product and Customers are everything:
Since most of the startups consider accelerators  as a mean to getting money, there are chances for many to focus on finding investors rather than their product and their customers. One has to understand that without a fully functional product or a good amount of customer traction, it is not possible to attract good investor to raise good amount of money.

Also, since accelerator offers some cash to almost every selected startup, it is quite difficult to stay grounded throughout the program.  The program is some like summer camps which is filled with energy and excitement with various events like speakers, people always conversing, drinking and having fun. So it quite easy for the young entrepreneurs to be carried away with all this and lose track of the business for which you have entered.  Hence, it becomes very important for the entrepreneurs to stay focused throughout their program and keep in sight of the product and the customers who are in the real world.

*Build strong relationship and networks:
During the course of the program, entrepreneurs should ensure to build a strong relationship with the people in charge of the accelerator. There is a common problem that has been sighted that they often tend to go into their caves and forget to build the necessary connections that would help the company grow. The people in charge of the accelerators are the ones who bring together potential investors and top entrepreneurs to their program so having a good relationship with them will help to network to various powerful people who may be of some use to the company if not immediately but later in business. They also get a chance to learn more through them.

It is advised to the founders to connect obsessively. The ones who are not following it would miss out on something valuable. Networking is the basics of business and an accelerator program creates a fertile soil for you to rapidly create this wonderful professional asset that could be used for ages.

*Being proactive:
Though different accelerator programs are different and their offerings may be different, it is important for the participants to be proactive and practical. The selected participants who have well-defined goals as to with whom they would want to build relationship with, people to meet and clear goals to achieve, are more likely to be helped by the program than others who follow the regular routine of general learning –> fundraising –> pitch prep –> demo day. The accelerators are there to make introductions and they want everyone to be successful, so it is in the hands of the entrepreneur to utilize their knowledge and network by asking them for the things that one need.

*Show interest to help other companies:
One of the wonderful aspects of accelerators is that they bring together a lot of other startup founder with a wide range of experiences. They can be interesting people from various other fields like developers, designers, community builders, storytellers and marketers around for the whole course period. Get introduced with them and show interest in their work so that they can come to you for any help in the particular field or you can go to them in case you want to get something done from them.  Sending a friendly mail to them to get introduced to one another will do no harm. Helping other founders is the best kind of networking and relationship building one can possible do. The worth of the relationships build during the accelerator program may not be realized until one steps into the real business world.

*Ask for anything and question at everything:
One may come across many concepts and ideas in the due course of the program. accelerators may have a set of program that everyone goes through. They may look like the right things to do but they may not be. As such a time, it is important to open up and as the person in charge. The program may have announced that fundraising is optional, or demo day is optional and other options that can be chosen as a part of the program. There may be a lot of influences and pressure to stick to agenda and so going out of track may be difficult for some. So it is important to question everything. The participants are allowed to question their advisors, the program or anyone associated with the program. If a doubt arises, question it and still find it unsuitable it is ok to say no and focus on what is needed. End of the day it is the entrepreneur’s company.

At the same time, when you think there is a need to ask something do not hesitate to open up. Accelerator program offers the rare opportunity to interact with top entrepreneurs and program partners who could offer very value advice when asked. So ensure you ask for feedback, introduction and advice.

*Find great financial advisors:
The core for any startup to enter into an accelerator program is to find the right mentors. Especially, make use of the right mentors to help you with the accounting and finances which play vital for any business. If the accounts and finances are not managed right, no matter how well other aspects are taken care of, the business would never flourish. So it is important to set up startup financials early and correctly. Right advisors can help in establishing day-to-day accounting functions like setting up an accounting system, establishing payroll and preparing financial statements. They could also act as a guide on developing larger financial strategy issues like creating a budget, understanding cash flow and cash burn and maintaining regulatory compliance. Mentors are the ones always ready to help and would make a difference to the business, so it vital to choose the right one during the program.

*Take advantage of mentor whiplash:
Many accelerator programs are known for mentor whiplash which is quite common when founders get conflicting advice and feedback from different people. It contradicting things may be really frustrating and disappointing for many young entrepreneurs. But the key point lies in how they are converting this into a positive one. It is not all that difficult to do that. It is important to keep the mind open, consider what they are saying and finish with a thank you. But it is wise to synthesize and process what they have said and filter what is needed. It is foolish to be too rigid and stubborn or too twistable and flexible.

Not everything others say has to be taken in or considered. The success of any business will not be measured on the critics or advice one considered or did not consider but measured on the basis on KPIs, revenues and growth of your business. However, when many are saying the same point then it means it needs attention and look at what can be done. Also, at the same time have enough gut in the heart to follow the vision when you really believe it.

*Set up routines:
Again, it is quite easy to be caught up in the day-to-day activities of the accelerator and lose focus on oneself. Having a proper routine can help you stay grounded. Take time off to go out for walks or gym, making time for oneself would lead to energize oneself before getting into the actual work. The regular routine of the program may become tiring and can cause one to get exhausted that may lead to losing focus on the real work.