If you’re a startup founder or aspire to become one, the reality of a # startup life is probably not the same as what is depicted on social media. Building a business, laid upon a vision of great impact, supported by quirky teams, and reliant on investments from critics, is not easy. It’s not always fun, and if you’re an underrepresented group in this country you’re often times met with additional levels of skepticism.
Getting started is just the first challenge in building your startup idea, but growing, maintaining and scaling it is a whole other level of difficulty. There are different pathways to growing and funding your startup. A highly sought approach is the incubator-accelerator route, which powers entrepreneurs and their early-stage businesses with support, mentorship, growth hacking, strong networks, and of course, money.
According to Gust, in 2016, 579 accelerator programs distributed over $200M to 11,000+ startups all over the world. The interest in these programs is not slowing down anytime soon, especially as corporations become interested in partnering with accelerators to get in on the action.
As an entrepreneur, there are a ton of difficult questions that you have to ask yourself as you build and grow your startup – how do I impact the world? How do I build something that will not only solve underserved pains but also be wildly profitable? How do I value or put a price tag on my vision? How do I attract and retain good people to help me in my quest? Some of the best accelerator programs give you a leg up to help you answer these questions in great detail.
Since around 2005, incubators and accelerators have enabled some of today’s leading startups and continue to embolden tomorrow by plugging them into invaluable resources and networks. Some popular programs include YCombinator (Airbnb, Dropbox), Boomtown (Parkifi, Wüf), AngelPad (Postmates, Periscope), and Techstars (ClassPass, LISNR).
Typically lasting around 3-4 months, these programs incorporate lessons and workshops on business and product development, growth strategies, provide mentorship or coaching opportunities, and conclude in a Demo Day, where businesses get the very rare opportunity of pitching their company to investors. The connection and credibility offered by these programs is invaluable and the experience has increased the odds for successful exits.
So how can you get in on these odds as well? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Don’t limit yourself to only applying to the big name programs, like YC or TechStars. Instead, look out for programs that are specifically targeted to your business – your business vertical or regional location are good indicators to look for. For example, if you are building a fashion tech business, there are programs specifically in that space. If you are based in a small or mid-sized city that has an emerging tech scene, utilize that tighter community and get plugged into the programming, rather than only targeting Silicon Valley.
Look out for programs that support the development of your founding team. Fellowships offer the opportunity for you as a founder to be coached as a leader and they sometimes come with capital for your venture. While they may not provide as much funding as you’d like to raise for your business, they do offer legitimacy to a founder, which is very important to investors.
Turn adversity into an advantage. Not unlike the rest of the tech industry (or any other industry for that matter), it can be especially challenging for people from underrepresented groups to gain access to accelerators. The good news is that now there are specific programs that are meant to serve these underrepresented groups. Be sure to look up opportunities targeted towards Black founders or women-led ventures, for example. You might be weary to pigeon-hole your business in these categories, but the value you and your [successful] business bring to those ecosystems will ultimately open the doors for your community and open the eyes of the entire tech industry.
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