What the Data Says about Getting into An Accelerator

Last week, GAN released its annual data report and, while the full report is only available to accelerators in the GAN Community that provided us with their program data, you can see the year’s top highlights in an infographic here.

Over the next six weeks, I’m going to dig into various parts of the report with a few specific goals in mind:

  1. Sharing how startups can get into the right accelerator.
  2. Sharing how startups can be successful during an accelerator program.
  3. And, sharing how startups can come out of an accelerator program ready to take their companies to the next level by finding the right investors and revenue sources.

That’s a lot to cover, which is why I’m going to start at ground zero this week and address the following question:
What does the data tell us about how companies actually get chosen to join an accelerator?

First, The Data

Once a year, every year, we ask all 110 accelerators in the GAN Community hundreds of questions about their programs. And when we asked them how startups were chosen for their programs in 2018, here’s what they said—

First of All, It’s Not Easy to Get In
In 2018, GAN Accelerators received more than 35,000 applications (35,055 to be exact) and accepted only 1344 of them. But frankly, we consider this a vanity metric. Yes, it equates to an acceptance rate of 3.8%, but we don’t truly know the quality of those 35,055 applicants. Instead, what we care about most is how those select few startups actually got into programs. Here’s what the data said those startups did…

Relationships Matter
Take a look at the data below. You’ll see that 21% of all applications received by accelerators came from founders directly recruited by the accelerator itself. Next on the list in terms of where programs source applications from? Unsurprisingly, the highest quantity of applications come from places like F6S and then pretty equal amounts coming from mentors, social media generated by accelerators, and then alumni recommendations.

While that chart is interesting—it shows how programs receive the most applications—the next chart is far more powerful. It shows where most accepted startups come from—

And, look at what happened here. There’s a dramatic increase in one specific thing—

If a startup had a preexisting relationship with an accelerator or someone who knows an accelerator (an alumnus or a mentor, for instance), they have a much better chance of getting into an accelerator. The data shows that of all of the startups who were accepted into an accelerator, a whopping 66% were accepted because of a prior, direct connection to a program.

What Does That Mean for Your Startup?

Be Engaged
First, it means that if you want to get into an accelerator, you need to get involved in what they’re up to. There’s a reason they’re speaking at events, hosting activities in their offices, and showing up around town. They want to get to know you—the startup that’s interested in joining their program.

Get to Know the Staff
Secondly, you must actually get to know the people running the program. You can’t just show up to one event at the accelerator’s office and expect that the MD will know you forever. Ask if the MD will grab a coffee with you, offer to help the program, or just generally continue being an active presence in the local startup community. If an MD can’t sit down with you, ask if their Program Manager (PM) will do it instead. Just build a relationship with the staff in some way.

Get to Know Additional Resources Connected to the Program
Third, get to know the investors and mentors at a program. MDs and PMs can’t be everywhere so they rely on their friends and trusted sources to help them find the next cohort of startups. The easiest ways to find mentors is either 1) Looking on the accelerator’s website to see who they are and who you may know, and 2) Searching for the accelerator on LinkedIn to see individuals that have tagged themselves as mentors at the specific accelerator you’re looking to join. Then, reach out to them and say that you would love to learn more about that particular accelerator.

Study Successes
Outside of getting to know the people behind the programs, do some research on the companies getting accepted into the programs you’re interested in. Look at what kinds of companies they are (what stage are they at? how much traction do they have already? what do their core teams look like? what kinds of connections do they have to the program prior to getting in? what things do they all have in common?).

Visit Other Programs
Go visit other accelerators. If you’re traveling around the world, a great idea is to stop into the local accelerator’s office and introduce yourself. Tell them that you’re in that particular city to meet them. That will go a long way to show your interest in their program. (And, if you want an introduction to any of the accelerators in GAN, just shoot me a note at patrick@gan.co).

In Addition to Engaging In Person, Engage Online
Lastly, the final way we see startups ingratiate themselves to programs is via social media. Respond to the program’s tweets, comment on their Instagram feeds and Facebook posts, and retweet or share their information when you can. Not only does it show that you’re engaged and you care, but you’re also helping to hype up the program you’re looking to apply to, and it shows you’re in it for more than just yourself. When appropriate (and, please, be respectful and don’t constantly nag them when they take a while to respond), DM a Managing Director. As a startup, you know what it’s like when someone messages you directly. Do the same thing—appropriately—with the people running the accelerator program, and I’m sure you’ll get noticed. A full &% of all accepted startups to accelerators last year got a spot at an accelerator just by engaging with the MDs or PMs over Twitter or Facebook.