Startup Accelerator Programs: How to Find, Apply and Get Accepted

Startup accelerator programs are designed to help entrepreneurs receive mentorship and training from like-minded people who have made it. For many who need help in getting their idea of the ground, an accelerator program is fundamental to their success. The training from those who have already done it, made the video and wear the t-shirt offers a massive boost in bringing their ideas to fruition, and in most cases startup finance is also available.

The best seed or business accelerators, such as Y-Combinator and Techstars, offers those they accept access to a network of top professionals, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who offer training and cash in return for a small share of the business. People with an idea and the will to make it work can focus on learning and developing their business without worrying about how to pay the bills. That's one major reason why startup accelerators have increased rapidly in popularity since Y-Combinator kicked off in Massachusetts in 2005.

According to Robert Leshner, CEO and co-founder of SafeShepherd, the San Francisco internet privacy protection firm, a specialist was on hand to help them through and learn quickly, saving a great deal of time on their startup. "When we needed to learn about something like SEO, there was a mentor who was incredibly knowledgeable about SEO," he stated. Leshner's team was accepted by 500 Startups in 2011. This accelerator is based in Mountain View, CA.

New startup accelerators are coming on stream almost every day now. They are very popular, and offer targeted instruction and guidance, funding where appropriate and also access to venture capitalists for more serious start-up and seed cash. On average you can expect around $20,000 startup funding for a 5% stake in your company.

However, while entrepreneurs will have access to mentors who can guide them through the minefield of business startups, this exposure to knowledge and expertise will not provide all the answers. They still have to work hard themselves. It's not the information and guidance that will lead to success, but how such mentoring and imparted knowledge is used.

So how do you join an accelerator that suits you? You must first apply for acceptance. Here is some advice on applying and doing all you can to be accepted:

Applying For Accelerator Mentoring

1. Research Available Accelerators


First you must find an accelerator that suits you and your business. The more closely you can match an accelerator to your business, the more likely you are to be accepted and the more you will get out of it. Check out accelerator directories such as AngelList.com, WebToTheRescue.com and Business-Incubators.FindTheBest.com/.

You are in effect choosing a business partner, so make sure you are suited to each other. Once you have found one to suit you make your application.

2. Applying to a Startup Accelerator

Take your time. You will only get one shot. Be sure in your mind what you want to get out of it, and state your idea as clearly as you can. Show passion in your idea, and make sure you have done all you can to develop it. You will be refused if you are sitting back waiting for a mentor to do the work for you.

Alex Ingold, M.D. of Techstars New York City, recommends that you "make a great video, talk about your background, be transparent and have fun filling out the application." He also recommends that referrals will help, so if you know anybody in your network that will help then get a recommendation from them. Perhaps an alumni or somebody you know who has gone through that accelerator in the past.

3. Be All Set to Go

Once you get called for an interview you must be ready. Do all your homework in advance, and don't wait for the call until you start. At minimum have a prototype product you can demonstrate, and an outline of your goals.

Be sure you understand your business and its projected place in the market. Is your market enduring, meaning is there a long-term future for your idea? Who are your customers and how will your business grow? Your interview will take about 15 mins. or so, and you must convey your enthusiasm, short and medium term plans and persuade them that you are worth investing in within that time period.

A personal recommendation will definitely help. If you know anybody who has passed through that particular accelerator before, then try to get a referral from them. That will be gold, because referral programs will take note of recommendations made by people they trust.

Why do They Offer Mentoring?

When you consider that the main objective of any startup accelerator program is just that: to accelerate your startup so you start making money ASAP, then their objective is obvious. They will have a stake in your company, and even if that is small, they will still be making money. The more successful your business, the more they will make.

Mentoring and finance are ways of accelerating the rate at which your idea will make profit. Hence the importance to them of the application and interview stages. You will only receive help if an accelerator program believes that there is a good chance of your business making enough money to cover their costs – bearing in mind that they do not expect all businesses to make it.

So a) choose the accelerator you feel best matched to your idea or business, b) make an application that states clearly what your idea and objectives are, and c) be well prepared to demonstrate your knowledge and that you have clear view of projected development of product and sales. Add one or two expert referrals and you are set to go.