Before Ever Applying to an Accelerator, Here’s What You Need to Know

There are 115 accelerators spread across 160 cities in the GAN Community. Their breadth, impact, and results are amazing.

In 2018 alone, more than 35,000 startups applied for just 1,344 spots at those accelerators. So, this past week, I asked leaders at GAN programs one simple question:

Before applying to your accelerator, what would you tell startups they need to do to prepare for your program?

Here’s What They Said

Candice Matthews-Brackeen
Hillman Accelerator and NewMe Accelerator
Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

In order to prepare for our program, please:

  • Know your customer.
  • Build a small team.
  • And, attempt to sell your product to someone BEFORE you apply.
  • Oh, and please, please, please finish the application in a text document then spell check it BEFORE you hit submit.

Lisa Schwab
Louisville, Colorado, USA

  • Have a product or service already in market.
  • Have a customer—or four.
  • And, have a year of runway so you can focus on the customer traction we’re going to deliver for you.

Dylan Boyd
R/GA Ventures
Multiple Locations

Cold, one-minute showers and fasting. Oh wait…that’s Silicon Valley.

Christian Lindener
Wayra Germany
Munich, Germany

  • Have a use case for your product within our technology fields.
  • Save yourself time and don’t apply randomly.
  • Have a team, customer, and runway.

Oscar Ramos
Shanghai, China

When we bring international startups to our program it’s because they want to access the Chinese and/or Asian markets. China is an amazing potential market for some foreign companies, offering some a chance to find early adopters for their products. It’s also a market startups can’t ignore if they want to truly become a global company. But I believe most international startups actually shouldn’t come to China. So, the first step (after you find the opportunity) and the key question that startups need to ask but often don’t is: “What’s your unfair advantage?” Once you identify your unfair advantage, then you need to validate it.

Todd O’Brien
Multiple Locations

Be prepared and do your homework on the program partners. You will never truly add value in a proof of concept if you don’t know the pains the corporate needs to address. And, come to the program and own your growth. There’s no spoon-feeding here.

Les Schmidt
San Ramon, California, USA

Before applying to your accelerator, please disabuse yourself of the notion that “No one else is doing anything like this.” Once you’ve done that you’ll:

  1. Greatly improve your chances of being accepted into the program; and,
  2. Be in a good spot to make optimal use of all that an accelerator can offer you and build a great business.

Adam Choe
Multiple Locations

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Team: Who is building it? Why is that the team that will win?
  • Traction: This doesn’t just mean revenue and, in some cases, revenue isn’t a concern.
  • Product: Are you playing in blue waters and are you first-to-market? Or, are you playing in red waters with a game-changing disruption to the status quo?
  • Opportunity: Is this a 1M, 1B, 10B-dollar opportunity? We just want to know you’ve done the math—BOTH bottom-up and top-down (but focus on bottom-up).

Celia Daly
Boulder, Colorado, USA

Focus on your team. A good idea is great, but only about 10% of a successful business. The other 90% is execution and you cannot execute without the right team. Don’t waste time “training” your founders and staff in their jobs—hire experienced people who have been there before, especially if you have not. When we evaluate an application, the first three criteria we look at are team, team, and then your team. You have a far better chance of being accepted if you have the right to win in the space based on past experience and skill set.

Erika Lucas
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA

Have something to show. Ideas are cheap until they’re no longer ideas but an actual product or service. You don’t have to be profitable to be in our program but you should already have some traction with clients, or at least a detailed pipeline of potential customers already lined up. Most importantly, we look for the will to succeed. You need to be ready to take responsibility for the growth of your company. We are here to help you as much as we can but, ultimately, the implementation is up to you and your team.

Oh yeah, and, the chances of you getting funded on Demo Day are very slim. Smart fundraising takes time and requires you to get to know investors and build relationships. If you are joining our program solely to fundraise, we are probably not the right program for you. We don’t exist to help you become a professional fundraiser; we are here to help you build companies that last. We get a lot of founders who want to build a “tech” company but don’t have a technical founder and they outsource most of the development. How can you be a tech company unless you have tech talent within the company?

Bret Holland
Lightning Lab
Wellington, New Zealand

Make sure you have a balanced and high-functioning team. Cover all the roles—Creative, Hacker, Hustler, Hero. We have an online self-assessment tool that can help. If you do not have a good team, we cannot help you build a good business.

Rita Casimiro
MAZE Impact
Lisbon, Portugal

  • Ventures need to have their products somewhat validated (some traction on KPIs that matter).
  • Have a clear understanding of where you stand vs. the competition—this understanding is sometimes quite shortsighted.
  • Have social or environmental impact embedded in your model.
  • Have a vision of their endgame—this is especially relevant because we work with impact ventures.
  • Be operating in or expanding in the European market.

And, another aspect that’s really important to us is that startups reflect on exactly what they would like to get out of the programme. Sometimes we feel founders apply to accelerator programmes just because they need help, even though they don’t really know what kind of help they’re looking for. If founders don’t know what they’re looking for, the chances of us actually supporting them are much lower.

Budoor Kamal
Seed Fuel – Rowad
Manama, Bahrain

There are certain elements of a startup that are mandatory for you to think of when applying to Seed Fuel-Rowad.

  • You should have a complete and vibrant team—with business and technical background and expertise—that are passionate and believe in the product in order to scale, grow, and succeed.
  • You should be able to validate your product, with an indication of traction and KPIs put in place.
  • You should understand your market, be able to strategically plan, and believe in how your startup will expand and grow in the MENA region and beyond. It is important for us that your startup exists in Bahrain or plans to expand into Bahrain (at an early stage) as a hub for its operations in the MENA region.

Henna Keränen
Stockholm, Sweden

  • Team: At least two founders need to be strong in both tech and biz dev—with the drive and ambition to build successful growth companies. We favor mixed teams with regard to gender and ethnicity.
  • Scale: You need to have a scalable product or service that can become an international success story.
  • Motivation and ambition: We need to believe that your company wants to build a successful international company and has a strong motivation to start at Sting.
  • Traction: You need some “early proof-of-concept”—a clear need or room for the product/service in your market.
  • SDG (sustainable development) goals: We also appreciate companies that are addressing SDG goals.

João Paulo Geroldo
Sevna Startups
São Paulo, Brazil

  • Tech Companies: The startup must be a tech business.
  • Founders: The founders must be full-time on the job and they need to have at least skills in business development (hustler) and software development (hacker).
  • Big Market: The market that they are working in needs to be big enough to scale.
  • Traction: At least an MVP running.

In our last cohort, as an experiment, we applied a soft skill test on the selected startups before the final agreement. It was an excellent experience to check the results with our perceptions.

Jeffrey Aguy
Lunar Startups
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

One way entrepreneurs can prepare is to make sure there is a best fit. While applying to a large number of accelerators/incubators can seem like a good strategy, our experience has taught us for entrepreneurs to look for a best fit.

Some considerations include:

  • stage of company alignment
  • regional alignment
  • industry alignment
  • mission alignment