Accountants and last-minute taxpayers are heaving a collective sigh of relief; gardeners, baseball fans and anglers are in anticipatory heaven... and many accelerators are offering mentoring, networking, exposure and a chance to win money.
Life's a Pitch: Accelerators
There's a lot of competition to get into high quality accelerators such as the Cleantech Open, MassChallenge or Tech Stars. That means a lot of competition and that means you need a great pitch, whether you writing your initial application, pitch to the first round judges or presenting at the finals (want some free help with your pitch? Register for the free 4/18 Elevator Pitch Clinic webinar here...).
Inside Scoop: What's the best way to accelerate?
I've seen accelerators from both sides: I have been a co-founder, chair and competitor in a couple of major business accelerators. I also coach a lot of finalists and other competitors every year. With all this experience and background, my authoritative answer to the question of whether an accelerator is a good choice for you is an unequivocal...
"It depends." (Sorry!)
Pros & Cons
The best thing about accelerators is that you usually get access to a ton of great resources at a cost-effective price. You'll get to know business leaders, get training, and have opportunities to raise your company's profile. The participants often develop a mutually beneficial community that is nurtured by the accelerator's management. These benefits are all terrific reasons to apply to an accelerator.
The challenge is that they cost money and time, two scarce commodities for most entrepreneurs. Nonetheless, while I've heard plenty of participants grumble over the artificial deadlines and extra work that are an essential aspect of participating in an accelerator, I can think of one only person who told me the he genuinely regretted having entered in the first place... and he was ticked off about one of the prizes he had won.
One last con is that, after working hard on your application and initial pitch, you may not be accepted into the program. But if the application deadline forces you to get your investor pitch written, that's a win for you anyway, so go for it!
Tips: Your startup comes first
When you're thinking about applying to an accelerator:
- If you're not sure about the quality of a particular accelerator, ask some alumni for insights into their experiences. Make sure it has a reputation for delivering great mentors, relevant programming and excellent networking. Don't worry about the prizes - only a handful of the entrants win anything so your focus should be on the other benefits you can reap just by working hard.
When you're accepted:
- If you are accepted into an accelerator, be a great member of the community and get as much out of the programs and resources as you can. Remember that accelerators are as affordable as they are because they depend on the generosity of sponsors and many, many volunteers, so live up to commitments you make when you sign up.
- Take as much advantage of the programs and especially the mentors as you can. For the latter, that means taking the lead immediately and consistently in setting up regular meetings, providing information (even if just an agenda) ahead of time and run with the advice you're given. Remember that they are volunteers and tend to be very successful, busy people. Make sure it's worth their while to work with you.
Just in general:
- With all of the above in mind, if it comes down to a choice between a critical accelerator deadline and a critical business deadline, go with the latter. I was furious one year of the ICE Competition when the most promising (in my opinion) competitor suddenly announced he would not be presenting at the finals, with only a few days notice. His CFO subbed for him but after all the work I'd put into coaching the CEO and the whole team had put into producing the finals, I just couldn't believe he was blowing us off.Well, it turned out that he missed the finals because he was pitching to Kleiner Perkins in California at exactly the same time. Shortly thereafter, he had a check for $4 or $5M... so I'd say he made the right choice. And the team won the competition anyway!
Tools: Find an accelerator
There is an incredible - and growing - number of accelerators in the world. The trick is in finding the ones that are a good fit with your business. I've found a few good, current lists that you may find useful:
And though I'm prejudiced, I do have to plug to my favorite, the Cleantech Open - Northeast. It is truly a class act with many volunteers serving since its beginning as the Ignite Clean Energy competition in 2004.
Good luck and much success to Ali Adler and her team!
Thoughts: Blog posts
- Part 1: Pros & Cons 1
- Part 2: 6 Questions to Ask Yourself
- Part 3: Learn from the Competitions
- Part 4: Don't Despair... and Don't Get Cocky!
What about you? Did you have great (or terrible) experiences as a member of an accelerator? What would you recommend to first-timers?