Four Questions Founders Should Ask Before Joining an Accelerator

Every year, some 30,000+ startups vie for just 1,300 spots at GAN Accelerators. Success rates for startups after they graduate from a GAN Accelerator are pretty impressive, too—more than 80% continue to be in business today.

But staying in business after graduating from a program is extremely difficult. Doing so means getting a lot of things right, and one of the most critical is that founders receive the correct support while they’re in-program.

While accelerators tend to do a great job of asking founders questions that help to ensure startups are the right fit for their programs, I don’t think that founders always do the same.

Why is this important? In the exit interviews I’ve seen when startups leave accelerators, there seems to be a common denominator between the startups who were thrilled with their experience at the accelerator and those who weren’t. That common denominator? The startups that were the happiest with their programs had the right expectations going into the accelerator. But, if they had unrealistic or misaligned expectations, they were frustrated.

For instance, if you ask startups what they’re looking for in an accelerator, you’ll typically hear the following:

  • Connections to capital
  • Connections to revenue (e.g., corporate partners)
  • Marketing support
  • Mentorship, especially around leadership
  • Learning how to sell/business development
  • Building a community of other founders they can work alongside, who really get what it’s like
  • Learning how to scale

As we all know, though, an accelerator can’t do all of these things equally. Some are amazing at connections to capital, while others are great at teaching you how to lead your company. The issue, then, is that startups assume whatever accelerator they’re applying to will be exceptional at everything. Because of these kinds of lofty expectations, they often start—and end—on the wrong foot.

So What Should Startups Ask Before Joining a Program?

What Do We Need?
This takes a level of real self-awareness and I so rarely hear founders considering it before even talking to an accelerator. They might be able to rattle off the list I mentioned above, but they won’t be able to prioritize the list or get any more specific about what they need out of a program (or even why it would be better to join a program than go it alone).

So, if you are a startup thinking about applying to an accelerator, make a list of your needs—and then rank them. This will be helpful, especially in light of the next step.

What Do We Specifically Need?
Most startups end there. They list out what they’re looking for, like, “We need corporate relationships,” and don’t go any further. They don’t actually articulate the specifics of what they need out of a corporate relationship or what a successful relationship with a corporate would look like for them. In other words, they don’t build a clear roadmap.

For instance, if you’re looking for corporate relationships, are you looking for corporate venture capitalists to invest in you or are you looking to form some type of partnership with corporates? And are you looking for any corporate, or are you looking for a corporate in a specific vertical, like healthcare or FinTech?

Can the Accelerator I’m Considering Actually Fulfill Those Needs?
Now that you know what you need—and really specifically—it’s essential to ask the accelerator you’re considering if they can provide it. Can they actually deliver on your most important need? If your top need is to connect to corporates in the FinTech space, make sure to ask the accelerator if they have those connections.

And, Can They Give Me Examples?
And, guess what? It’s actually perfectly okay—positive, really—for you to ask specific questions about how the accelerator has helped with this in recent history. If the program says they’re focused on corporate connections in FinTech, make sure to ask how that was done before. Was it done via a warm email or connection or something else? And, did they not only make a connection, but see a real relationship built after connections were made? That way, you know how the support was provided and if it dramatically helped the startup get what they were looking for. They weren’t just passed to a corporate leadership team in an email and the “relationships” ended there.

It’s Worth It

Trust me, really digging into these questions before applying will save you, the founders, from a lot of frustration. Or, at the very least, it should save you from having a total “deer-in-headlights” experience when you begin your discussions with a potential accelerator. You’ll be able to answer any questions an accelerator will pose to you, and you’ll be able to ask questions back. Just like a job interview, when they want to know if you have questions for them, you’ll not only impress them, but you’ll walk away knowing exactly what you need to make a well-informed, solid decision.

And you’ll be a lot more excited about the accelerator you’re about to join.