6 Ways to Make Startup Accelerators Work for Your New Venture

VP K12 Computer Science Products, EMC School
Hit the gas or not?!

My company Zulama is a proud graduate of VentureOut NYC (2016), LearnLaunch Breakthrough (2016), and the AT&T Aspire Accelerators. Now that I am listed as an alumna on their websites, I’m amazed at how many ed-tech CEOs are contacting me, asking about our experience. They are wondering if they should apply, the best way to get to the top of the application heap, and looking for other helpful advice.

Accelerator Recommendations

Here’s my take on how to approach incubators and accelerators:

  1. Don’t reinvent the wheel. First, develop responses that will apply to most applications. Update the information regularly. Then you will be ready when you find out the application to your dream accelerator is due tomorrow!
  2. That said, focus. Don’t waste your time applying to every single opportunity you encounter. Apply to programs whose goals are a strong match for your product or company.
  3. Tailor your Application. Make the effort to research the program. Use similar language in your application that you find on the program’s website. Give the evaluation team the impression that you share common goals and are passionate about solving the same problems.
  4. You will get out what you put in. You will be disappointed if you are expecting your business to be magically transformed merely by showing up. The most impact is when entrepreneurs have:
    • Set 1 to 3 primary goals for their time in the program
    • Made those goals crystal clear to the organizers, and
    • Stayed laser-focused on achieving those goals.
  5. It’s an [expected] rite of passage. Admission to and graduating from an accelerator is a criteria that many ed-tech investors use as a baseline requirement. That said, you will not get funded just because you graduated. A good program can help make introductions, but you should be prepared to do the work to convert those intros into meaningful relationships that may lead to an investment.
  6. Don’t get sidetracked. Most programs will expose you to a broad network of mentors. You will meet many impressive people who have undeniable qualifications. Make sure that you don’t follow every piece of advice, because even valid ideas can move your business sideways instead of forward if they don’t match up well with your goals. 

Incubators and accelerators can be a successful way to move your needle forward. Just make sure you have realistic expectations and are prepared to work at achieving your goals.

Join the Conversation in Person

Going to be at SXSWedu? Get the lowdown from me and a few of my closest accelerator friends by coming to our session, called Tales from EdTech Accelerators, on March 6, 2018 from 3:30PM – 4:30PM at the Hilton Auston Downtown, Salon D. Hope to see you there!

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Image by flickr user kenji ross, licensed under Creative Commons


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