How to get into a start-up accelerator

Accelerators can be an incredible springboard for any new business but most are fiercely competitive to get into. So how can you secure a place?

Alex Bargate, CEO of online arbitration platform Ajuve, has been at Entrepreneurial Spark since 2015 and was recently accepted onto the MassChallenge accelerator. Here, Bargate gives his tips on how to prepare for an accelerator…

After 30 years of experience in the legal sector, it was my father who originally gave me the idea for Ajuve. He was getting increasingly frustrated with the time, cost and stress associated with dispute resolution and, when we got our heads together, it became clear that there was a big gap in the market for an online alternative.

But with a business model that challenges an entire industry’s status quo, I knew we’d need some help. Joining an accelerator programme, which often gives you access to excellent contacts and mentor directories, seemed like the perfect way to get feedback on the concept early on and make valuable connections.

Having been part of two accelerators now, I can say there’s nothing like the buzz of sharing a floor with so many other entrepreneurs – the enthusiasm and determination to succeed is infectious! And with the sheer amount of resources at your disposal, your business is sure to grow and evolve in leaps and bounds.

But how do you get accepted onto a start-up accelerator scheme in the first place? Here are a few things I’ve learnt along the way…

1. Have some evidence to validate your idea

One of the biggest mistakes many entrepreneurs make is to come up with a product or service that they would want to use, without thinking about whether anyone else would.

Market research and testing is key. Positive results here can help to justify your belief in the business and instil confidence in others – such as those judging your accelerator application.

This is particularly true in the very early stages of your business when you won’t have many customers yet. Get out there and ask your market about the problems you want to solve; use surveys to get valuable qualitative feedback and insights, and look into your own data to see any trends that might help you improve and refine your product.

2. Have a plan to turn your business idea into a business proper

As Chris Sacca, an investor in Twitter and Uber, put it: “Ideas are cheap, execution is everything”.

There are a lot of talented people out there with great ideas but demonstrating that you know how to turn an idea into a sustainable, profitable and highly scalable business model is the difference between a cool idea and a game-changing start-up. This is also what will convince an accelerator that you’re worth their time.

There are some key strands that you should focus on planning to be able to demonstrate that your business will work. Know your market, your sales channels, and, of course, the team you’ll need to build to make it all a reality.

3. Pay attention to what the accelerator is trying to do

There are a plethora of great accelerators in the UK, from Techstars, Accelerator Academy, Wayra, and Ignite100 to Entrepreneurial Spark and MassChallenge. And of course, all accelerators want to find golden ideas backed by a strong team for the best chance of success. But they’ll often have particular areas of focus, so it’s worth doing your research.

Entrepreneurial Spark, for example, has a focus on developing you as a person and as an entrepreneur, so applicants should aim to show commitment to their own learning and personal development as well as that of the business. MassChallenge, on the other hand, looks for high-impact start-ups so make sure you emphasise that when you apply.

Pick a programme that is well aligned with what your product is and what you want to do, then put work into demonstrating how you live up to that criteria.

See also: Advice on incubators and accelerators

4. Know what you want to get out of the accelerator

Think about why you’re applying and have a plan for how you want to use the accelerator’s resources. It might be networking opportunities that you want to take advantage of, mentors whose experience you want to tap in to, or events you really want to attend.

Tie these opportunities into specific business goals for your start-up. Any accelerator will want to know that the resources they give you won’t go to waste.

The competition to get into an accelerator is stiff, but don’t be disheartened if the first application doesn’t go to plan – persistence is key and the benefits you’ll reap from being in that kind of environment are worth fighting for.

So start looking at your options and sending those forms off – there’s no better way to learn.

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