Accelerator alignment: Getting the most out of startup support

"Eight of 10 businesses fail within the first 18 months."

"50 percent of all new businesses make it to their fifth year."

Whether it appears in Fortune or a report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the data these sources reveal regarding the average lifespan of a startup is often contradictory. The statistics may be hazy; however, the reasons for a fledgling business's untimely demise are concrete: limited capital, loss of market interest or lack of quality mentoring.

As we have noted in a previous post, VCs and other investors have sought to create more favorable conditions for entrepreneurs by establishing accelerators. These programs are designed to guide nascent business founders through the process of crafting a credible pitch, expanding a network, developing a viable business model and attracting a target market. As is the case with other educational programs, though, not all accelerators are designed for the same type of startup.

Before seeking entry into this type of collaborative program, entrepreneurs should consider these attributes:

1. Facilitators

The accelerator's mentors and the founders shape the program's curriculum and influence the success rate of its alumni. Applicants are best served when they research the individuals responsible for maintaining the program because these guides will lead applicants through the boot camp that is the accelerator program. Established veterans within the industry will have connections to like-minded people. Those who commit to a program staffed with individuals operating outside their field of interest may squander their opportunity to network and learn area-specific information.

2. Primary focus

In a similar manner, the accelerator's connection to a certain business sector will influence the entrepreneur's experience in the program. In the past decade, programs have evolved to meet the needs of those in various fields. While many individuals are familiar with TechStars and Y Combinator, options exist beyond these organizations. In New York City alone, programs for health, fashion, finance, real estate and education startups have been established. Locating an industry-specific accelerator may require extra research; however, it is imperative that applicants select the program connected to their field.

3. Stage of development

Unlike incubators, which are geared toward fostering a spirit of community among founders in shared working conditions, accelerators are designed to guide students through a specific process in a compressed period of time. In order to facilitate this undertaking, these programs are tailored to address the needs of a company at a specific stage in development: funding, product testing or scaling the business. Those who apply to programs that do not target their business needs do not receive the relevant tutelage that their business needs to thrive.

While putting in the time to research to area accelerators may not be as exciting as a pitching a product, engaging in a judicious search may ensure that entrepreneurs have products to pitch years down the line. 

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