Making the LEAP: Preparing your startup for an accelerator path
In the startup world, speed is everything. New ideas are, well, rarely ever new. The odds are that dozens of entrepreneurs around the world are working on a similar concept as you. So the faster and more efficient you are at making progress, the more likely you are to surpass your competitors to achieve product-market fit.
Growing your business alone – without the support of external resources – is challenging, but determining which resources to tap into, or whether you’re at the right stage to leverage the available support, can be even more difficult for founders who are eager to grow.
That’s where accelerators can be an excellent option for companies who want to move faster; they help startup teams develop their products, grow their networks, and advance their businesses more quickly than they can on their own.
Accelerators are often confused with incubators, and understandably so. The main difference to is that with accelerators, startups are typically accepted in cohorts that remain in the program for a fixed period of time, and focus on preparing an existing company to scale. Incubators, on the other hand, primarily focus on offering a space to ‘incubate’ ideas and explore business models.
Many accelerators specialize in sector-specific support, growth stages, and types of businesses. When looking into accelerator programs, it’s a great idea to first focus on whether your business seems like it would be the right fit for their offerings.
Whether you are at an early stage or experiencing unprecedented growth, it’s never too early (or too late) to apply to an accelerator. But before you hit send on your application, here are some key areas to focus on to make sure your company is ready to jump on the fast-track to success:
Your founding team is arguably one of the most critical indicators of future success. Having a solid leadership team will help your company weather the challenges and uncertainty that comes with running a new or growing business. Many accelerators look for companies with founders who have impressive backgrounds and unique experiences. The more diverse the founders are, the better. It’s always best to have a wide range of skills and knowledge on your founding team to ensure there are a variety of perspectives around the decision-making table.
If you’re not building a company with global aspirations, accelerators may not be the right fit for you. Because accelerators are best structured for companies on a venture path, they look for companies with large market opportunities. Accelerators want to know you’re building a solution that addresses a multi-billion-dollar market.
Be sure to demonstrate your knowledge of the product and goals for acquiring market share on your application. You should expect questions about the total dollar value of the opportunity, along with the customer segment you can reasonably address. Having as much information as possible will help your chances of acceptance, should you advance to the interview portion that is often part of the application process.
Your product will be another major focus of accelerator selection committees. If you’re thinking about applying to an accelerator, you should – at the very least – have a minimum viable product (MVP) that you are iterating on through continuous customer discovery. You also want to have an initial product roadmap, or an idea of the timeline and resources required to launch your product or introduce particular features. Accelerators want to see that your product has garnered market validation before accepting you into their program – so make sure you have active users or pilots that demonstrate validation.
Your company’s traction is another critical aspect that accelerator programs evaluate. Traction is demonstrated when your company achieves milestones that indicate progress. If your company is gaining traction, you may have secured funding, hired more employees, launched a key product feature, or experienced market validation through impressive users or customer growth.
Every business’s traction is different, depending on factors such as, how long the business has been running, whether it is a hardware company, or developing a software, for example. Your traction should match where your business is at in its lifecycle. In other words, the expectation of what you should accomplish in the first few months of starting a company is much different than what is expected at the three-year mark of being in business.
Are you ready to take the leap?
Accelerators can be transformative for a business, and can nurture founders to become better leaders through mentorship and peer-to-peer learning opportunities. The benefits of participating in an accelerator far outlast your company’s program graduation, too; participants leave with a global network of like-minded entrepreneurs and advisors to support them as they expand their businesses and disrupt sectors.
For entrepreneurs who are leaning toward an accelerator path, a new Volta program may be for you: LEAP – Leading Entrepreneurs to an Accelerator Path – will help early-stage startups prepare for leading, global accelerators such as Creative Destruction Lab, Techstars and Y Combinator. Facilitated by former venture capitalist-turned business advisor, Toon Nagetegaal, this program will empower local startups to grow and innovate more rapidly, and further strengthen the Atlantic Canadian startup ecosystem.
For more information, visit www.voltaeffect.com/leap.