Startup accelerators and incubators are great opportunities for new businesses to grow and scale their operations quickly. These programs are pivotal for the startups who participate in them, as they often provide access to exclusive business resources and funding opportunities.
However, they can also be highly competitive—acceptance to an accelerator program relies on creating a compelling pitch and proving your startup’s potential right out of the gate.
If you’re thinking of applying to a startup accelerator or incubator, consider this advice from the members of Young Entrepreneur Council.
1. Make Your Idea Easy To Understand
When you’re working on something, you’re in it every day and you understand it really well. It’s a different art to take a new idea and share it with someone who is completely new to it. So many startups fail at conveying what it is they are actually doing. Having really concise messaging around what it is that you do and illustrating that to people in an elegant fashion is the most important tip. – Cody Candee, Bounce
2. Focus On Crafting Your Pitch
It’s all about the pitch. Most tech startup people are so in the trenches of their product that they forget how to talk high level about who the tech is for. Remember to not go too granular about the tech specs and instead tell a story. That story should be about your ideal customer. Discuss their pains and how your tech will solve all their problems. It’s important to remember when you tell your story that you portray the customer as the hero, not you. In the customer’s story, you are the guide that gave the hero the tools they needed to conquer the unconquerable. This positioning will also help when marketing to your future ideal customers. – John Murphy, eBike Generation
3. Be Overprepared With Your Numbers
You can focus on a great pitch, but don’t forget about the importance of presenting the right numbers. Go over your story and see which statistics would stand out in your presentation. This gives density to the presentation of your business and lets them know what they can do to accelerate your progress. Experts would be able to gauge the areas you need to improve on and help you patch things up if you know your numbers. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS
4. Don’t Be Married To Your Ideas
As someone who is currently in a social innovation accelerator, I know firsthand just how valuable your experience in the program can be for you personally and for the growth of your organization. The advice I wish I had received before beginning the program is to not be married to your ideas. When I first began the program, we entered with a very specific proposed model, which was very quickly tossed to the side in favor of a completely new idea. Why? Because we listened to our mentors and found new issue areas only we were equipped to solve. The network is truly the most valuable part of the accelerator. If you take the time to connect with the mentors, past participants, even the current group, you will be presented with opportunities that weren’t ever on your radar. – Ashley Sharp, Dwell with Dignity
5. Identify Your Value Proposition
Do you have a clear, clean and succinct value proposition? You’ll need one before you can capture the attention of any incubator. A lot of early-stage entrepreneurs have an idea of the value their company can deliver, but they struggle to articulate it in an easy-to-understand way. Not only does that make it hard to pitch the company to prospective customers and incubators, but it also stymies your efforts to grow in general. Without the guidance of a clear value proposition, you run the risk of taking unnecessary detours and chasing extraneous products or services. A clear value proposition keeps you focused on the parts of your startup that matter most—and it also shows incubators you mean business. They’ll be more likely to see what makes you worth their investment. – Miles Jennings, Recruiter.com
6. Find A Mentor
One tip I always give to people applying for an accelerator program is to find a mentor. You’re more likely to succeed in the program if you’re open to the advice of the experts running the program. This can be difficult, especially if they suggest you pivot your startup or if they suggest making any dramatic changes. However, if you show that you’re open to listening, they will be more willing to help you. You need someone with the knowledge and hands-on experience to make sure your business idea becomes a successful reality. – Shu Saito, Fact Retriever
7. Think Beyond The Program’s Financial Resources
When doing your research on an accelerator or incubator, make sure that they don’t just have financial resources to help you; they should also have networking relationships and access to tools that are relevant to your specific area. For example, drone tech and AI need specialized tools. The location where you’re looking for help also matters. Specialized incubators can be clustered around specific regions. It may be worthwhile to even consider moving to access better technology and expertise to grow your business. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner
8. Follow Them On Social Media
I suggest following accelerators and incubators on social media. Keep an eye open for events conducted by them and participate in webinars and networking events. By doing this, you get a feel for what matters to these organizations and you’ll get the chance to talk to other startups who have joined the accelerator program. You’ll also learn more about what you need to do or have to qualify for to get assistance from such bodies. And when you speak to people from these organizations, you’ll be able to talk to them with greater familiarity, which builds trust right away. – Blair Williams, MemberPress
9. Ask Questions And Do Your Research
Before applying to a startup accelerator or incubator, be sure to ask questions and do research about what you’re actually looking for. It’s OK to ask recruiters and hiring managers questions to see if their vision aligns with yours so you can run a successful business. – Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms
10. Consider If You’re Ready For It
I’ve been a startup mentor at a few accelerators and what I found is that most entrepreneurs are just not ready to commit, to put everything on the line, and their commitment is closer to that of a hobby. Hobbyists spend time and energy but never benefit because they lack the commitment to go all in on their idea. Make sure you are ready; sometimes it’s better to wait until you can commit rather than doing it part time. What is going all in? Hire experts to weigh in on your marketing and business plan and accountants to assess the tax burden and also implement a scaling plan for not just a few months, but for years. Take your time in determining your goals and organizing yourself. – Matthew Capala, Alphametic