3 Simple and Strategic Tips For Getting Into a Startup Accelerator

Now, I’m the last person that would ever want to give you the impression that getting accepted into a startup accelerator is anything but “simple” because it can be a very large challenge through-and-through but what I’ve discovered after having heard countless company pitches and mentoring startups via The Iron Yard is that many founders have made their pitches and concepts far too complex for their own good!

You see, there’s something magical about keeping things simple yet attractive, palatable enough that makes those listening hungry for even more (and that follow-up interview and phone call!). So here are 5 simple reminders and tips that can help you do just that:

1. It’s About You and Your Product

For a startup accelerator you must remember that your entrance is based on the merit of not just your idea but also yourself as a founder. In many instances you have just the seed or germ of an idea and so the onus is on your ability to convince the decision making team that you are competent, experienced, and dedicated enough to see this program through to the end.

This is why I recommend and challenge many startup leaders to think about how they present themselves as well as their product. Sometimes this means something as simple as “dressing up” a bit (I’m the last person to wear a suit and tie, so don’t take this the wrong way!) and combing your hair before an interview so that you don’t look like a complete degenerate. First impressions are powerful signals which you can leverage in your favor when done right!

All-in-all, brushing up on on your soft skills and your ability to sell yourself as one who will be a success in the accelerator program can do a world of good for your company and, of course, your product.

2. Contextualize Your Approach

With an ever-growing network of accelerators and new ones popping up every week it seems there has never been a better time to try your hand at getting your idea and company accelerated. But that doesn’t mean that all of your options are of equal value and certainly it does not mean that all of them will serve you best.

You have a far-better chance of success when you contextualize your approach and maximize your time and attention on the ones that will have the biggest impact on you and your product.

What this means, in many ways, is that you really have to do your homework and find out if X, Y, Z accelerator falls in your niche as a technology and whether or not the program itself as well as the mentors lined up to provide support will be able to strategically and tactically bring explicit value.

This also means that you’re not canvassing the accelerator world and applying to every single one that looks generally appealing. Make your application relevant to what the accelerator brings to the table as it’s quite obvious when an app is a copy-and-paste job.

Don’t do that, please.

3. Follow the Rules

This is where a lot of startup founders and entrepreneurs lose tons of ground and it’s sad to see to see this issue crop up so consistently. You see, every program has rules, regulations, and “hoops” to jump through so that they can provide the very best value for their startups, their mentors, their partner companies and more. These rules aren’t there to handcuff anyone but to establish a modicum of management and order.

The biggest problem? Founders do not actually spend the time reading the very important FAQs and/or documentation for submission and consideration to getting into an accelerator. For example:

  • Some accelerators require a team of 2 or more. Why, then, do solo-founders apply to these programs? They most likely didn’t read or it was a copy-and-paste spam job.
  • Some accelerators focus exclusively on niche areas of technology or a niche industry and vertical. The quickest way for your application to hit the trash bin is to apply to an accelerator that has nothing to do with your company’s industry or core product offering.
  • Some accelerators desire prototypes while others want to work with founders and their ideas only. If you don’t have a working prototype then don’t apply (and if you have one then don’t apply to accelerators that are working with ideas only!).
  • Application deadlines (and dates in general) matter. I’m not sure why so many founders seem to ignore these very important hard-and-fast dates and feel that they can somehow miss them at will. The success of the program hinges on things working smoothly and orderly for all parties and we have enough interest not to take an exception.

And the list goes on and on. The point is that these guidelines are specific to each program and are important part of how they operate and facilitate the creation of value for those who join. Make sure to read those “fine print” points as well as you always want to go into any program with both eyes open.

Good luck with your applications this year – you can do it!