Startups are always looking for ways to boost their growth. One increasingly popular route lies with accelerators: fixed-term programmes that include mentorship and training and conclude with a public pitch or demo day.
It's worth thinking carefully about whether an accelerator is right for your startup. And once you've made the decision to apply for one, it's also worth preparing properly to ensure your startup has the best shot at success.
Firstly, should you even apply for an accelerator? Appealing though they may sound, an accelerator may not be right for your business. They are also tough to get onto, involve an intense process and they are highly time-consuming (most of them are a few months long) so it's worth considering the effort versus possible reward.
"All accelerators are challenging," says Osmond Desilva who runs Tech City Coffee meetup sessions for startups. "They have stringent conditions, get thousands of applications, and the acceptance rate at top ones like TechStars, Seedcamp or Microsoft Ventures is less than one percent."
Harry Davies, senior acceleration manager at Wayra UK, says: "Whilst an accelerator can be a springboard, building a startup is still monumentally hard work. It should be best thought about as a means to an end, not an end in itself; you should plan to get to where you need to be regardless."
It's useful to widen the net as far as possible: attend a few open days at different accelerator schemes, to ensure you find the right fit. Talk to alumni startups who have been through the process as well, so you understand what's involved as fully as possible before committing to applying to a scheme.
Don't get distracted by the money, Desilva warns: it comes at a price. Although most accelerators provide startups with an injection of around £20,000 in cash, plus mentoring and office space, they require two people to attend full time for several months. There will be a pitch day at the end, in most cases. Many accelerator schemes also require you to give up a stake in your business.
"Although it is an accelerator not an investor, they do see you as an investment proposal," he explains.
It's worth identifying which accelerators you want to apply for most of all.
"You need to be sure that it's right for you," says Davies. "Equally, knowing what you want to get out of a programme helps you better extract value. You will be inundated with opportunities, and you need to manage these strategically."
Make a list, and create a standardised pitch deck with three simple slides explaining your business in bullet points and images, Desilva advises.
"Ensure you show your team in there, and even better show customers too," he adds. "The main focus should be on selling the benefits of the product specifically to the user. Simply explain the problem you are solving and how you are monetising that, without too many specifics or technical details."
Try to avoid buzzwords like AI, blockchain, 3D printing or claiming you're ‘like Uber', Desilva says. "Money is following those, but start with the problem not the tech," he advises.
"Lukewarm isn't going to cut it," Davies says. "You have to blow them away, connecting emotionally with the audience on a very human level, whilst taking them through a story that demonstrates an unstoppable journey towards your vision. Think of this pitch like a trailer to a film."