The application process is your gateway into top accelerator programs- like Techstars and Y Combinator. These top programs are extremely selective, meaning that less than 1% of applicants get in. This makes these programs pickier than Harvard, Stanford, and MIT. Let’s discuss how to improve those odds and tip them in your favor—and get your startup into one!
- There is no ‘I’ in ‘team.’
The most important variable in any early stage company’s success is the team. Evaluation of your team is one of the top factors for acceptance into top ranking accelerator programs. Make sure that you’re devoting time to prove how well you work together. These programs are not just looking into intelligence and drive of teams, but chemistry is also a factor. Everyone has business ideas—they’re a dime a dozen, but the key to success early on is having a killer team working behind the scenes. How can accelerators have faith in your ability to woo customers if your ability to put together a team is less than stellar?
Pro tips on team chemistry: Don’t just pretend to like each other. The easiest way to demonstrate that your team has awesome chemistry is to actually like one another. Starting with people that you respect and enjoy time with…if just one of these things isn’t true, there’s a problem and it is visible to trained auditors. Team counts. Don’t compromise on respect or likeability.
- Be Amazing
Management in top accelerator programs view hundreds, possibly even thousands of applications for every acceptance window. Make sure that you’re taking the time to make yourself stand out! Tell reviewers how you’re special—whether you were the captain of your college ruby team, can recite King Lear from memory, or you’ve landed a million engaged users during your beta launch, they want to see what makes you different. Give reviewers examples of how you’ve creatively solved problems for fun, profit, or just for the heck of it in the past. Tell them the things that you loved doing. Give them a reason to remember your application!
- Early Application is Key.
Applying early allows reviewers to give your application the time it takes to review in depth with full focus…whereas leaving your submission to the final few days makes it much more difficult for management to give it the same attention. Even if you think you’ll have better numbers or demo videos later on, early is still best. You can always share updates and developments with the review team in most cases. Treat this as the start of a conversation…not a pitch.
- References and Recommendations are Key.
Recommendations grab the review team’s interest and catapult you forward in the application and vetting process. A strong reference from a mentor or founder from previous accelerator sessions will help you build name recognition. Hustling to get those awesome recommendations is a strong indicator to reviewers that you have the drive, initiative, and resourcefulness that accelerators want in their sessions.
- No Wannabes
Top accelerator programs see a ton of trendy ‘meme’ businesses. Most reviewers have seen more social/local/mobile/ group purchasing/ photo apps than ever thought possible. Of course, it’s about execution and the idea doesn’t really count here…but it is crucial that you give reviewers a clue about how you’ve thought hard to get an edge on competition. What sets you apart and makes you different from the dozens of other startups trying to solve the same problem in the market?
- Study Up!
Learn about what companies the accelerator you’re applying to has accepted before. They all have specific problems that they love to solve. Show the review team why you’re a great fit, and how you would approach the problem from a new and innovative perspective. Telling the program how and where they can help you is also a plus. Giving the management team information like which mentors you want to work with, explaining why the program’s network can accelerate your startup is extremely valuable to them when they choose new applicants for a session.
- Show Promise
Most accelerator programs accept applicants at all stages of development, most management teams want to see that the startup in question has momentum working in their favor. It doesn’t really matter if you’re in a team of three with a product in beta, or a company of 12 with $1 million in annual revenue and seed funding set in place…convince the program why your idea is capable of scaling. Depending on the stage that your company is in, this may involve including Google Analytics in your application, demo videos, or just explaining why your initial beta users are truly invest in improving the particular product you’re pushing out into the market. Traction impresses review teams and pushes you forward in the process.
- Your Demo Video Is Crucial
Review teams take the demo video included with your application seriously—it’s a way to cut down the applicant pool down to the final 100 that make it to the semi-final meetings. Most programs don’t focus on production quality, you should be striving to help programs get to know you and your product in a more personal way. This video sheds light on the ability to pitch your company—not only to the review team of whatever accelerator programs you decide to pursue, but also to future mentors, VC’s, and users.
- Branding Helps
Spend some time working on a brand around you and your organization. Once the review team begins to dig into your application, they inevitably would do what anyone would do: check your website. Check the online profiles. See if anyone is already talking about your startup or product. They aren’t looking for reviews from publications like the New York Times at this point, but any signals you that you can use to your advantage to paint the picture of this is going to be a successful organization and the wheels are already in motion will only be helpful to achieving your organizational goals.
- Details are Important, but so is turning in the application
Ensure that your application is in top shape. Avoid typos, inconsistencies, and obscurity at all cost. Application quality is the first indication to accelerator program review teams of how you work, so make sure you present yourself in the best possible light. But don’t get gun shy! Take that shot and turn it in!
Pro tip: Have other people proofread and edit your application materials. It really can do wonders (especially if they’re a keen editor!). It’s amazing what we personally miss when we’ve read and re-read something a couple dozen times.