How to pick the best accelerator for you

You’re starting a company.  Your product is the next big thing, that no one had thought of – or at least executed well.  Your founding team is comprised of top-notch thinkers and doers and your network has assured you of one thing: People Will. Want. This.

So now what?  For many, the next logical step would be to apply for an early stage accelerator.  But with +800 accelerators in the US alone, deciding which one is the best for your company is hard.  Sure there are the media darlings, the TechStars, YCs, and 500 – but what about the sector specific programs, or the corporate accelerators, or even PIE?

Deep breath.

It’s not easy. Picking the right accelerator is like picking a life partner.  Your relationship with them should go beyond an announcement of being selected and a demo day round up.

So how do you go about picking the right one?  First, you need to understand that there is no right choice. There is only the right choice for you and your company. Companies that fly high at YC may be miserable in other programs. Startups that work well in corporate accelerators may flounder in less focused efforts.

Long story short, you need to find the accelerator that  most closely matches your startup’s need. And here are our tips on how to best to do that.

Experience : Who is driving the ship?  What is their reputation around town and around the industry? Are they credible?  Remember, this relationship will be a very important part of your company, from here forward. And you’ll be relying on them a lot during and after the program.

Alumni : How many have gone through their program and where are they now?  What types of companies have found success in the program? Not all success stories are newsworthy, so do some homework. Pro tip: Be strategic, alumni typically know when application windows are open and their referrals go a long way.

Capital : What is their track record?  It’s important that you understand how their investments are structured and what it means for your cap table. Because that could affect your investors down the road.  Do they follow on? Are their alumni successful at raising their next rounds?

Network: The program directors and managers are only part of the equation. Find out who makes up their network and how involved they are. Mentors are not only great for their copious amounts of battle stories and wisdom, but often become go-to candidates for advisory boards and can potentially unlock more introductions.  A good network goes beyond alumni + mentors. Look into who else they have good working relationships with – VCs, law firms, or even other startup companies that might not have gone through their program.  It takes a village to raise a startup, so make sure they’ve got one.

Resources: Mentors, partnerships, and special perks are an important part of a balanced breakfast… err accelerator. Many accelerators have sweetheart deals with vendors and services that are helpful to a growing company.  Take advantage of them.

Momentum: What are you looking to get out of your experience with said accelerator? And do you honestly think they can help get you there?  You’ve typically got 3 months – 1 year in this program – and every day counts.  Think about your roadmap. The right accelerator should be able to get your further.  And finally, understand what success looks like to them. Is that a mold you’re ready to fit in?

You should believe in your accelerator as much as you want them to believe in you.  The relationship needs to be mutually beneficial, to be successful.   The same logic we use to decide each class is the same logic you should use to decide which accelerator to join.  Like with any other major decision, do a gut check – does it feel like the right decision?

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