Find your fit: the accelerator program you choose matters
No two accelerator programs are the same and the program you apply for could determine the outcome of your startup. So, if you’re a startup founder, what should you be looking out for?
Accelerator programs play a vital role within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, growing startups from their embryotic stages through to established companies. With so many accelerator programs available, it’s vital to understand which program is right for your startup and how to go about applying.
The University-Industry Engagement Conference (UIIN) hosted by UTS this week, brought together leading experts from across the startup ecosystem to discuss the different accelerator models; their tips on applying; and, common mistakes startup founders make when pitching for funding or accelerator programs.
The panel, moderated by Dr Anna Wright, UTS Startups member and Founder of BindiMaps, represented a diverse range of accelerator approaches across the startup landscape.
Members of the panel included:
- , Director of Entrepreneurship,
- , Associate Director, Innovation NSW
- , Co-Founder, ON Program and Executive Manager, CSIRO ON
- , Managing Director Australia, Microsoft for Startups
- , Chief Innovation Officer, BlueChilli Group
Are accelerator programs worth applying for?
Murray Hurps, UTS Director of Entrepreneurship and former Fishburners CEO, argued accelerator programs are an invaluable resource for any startup.
“Imagine being surrounded by people running companies similar to your own, sharing networks, sharing your expertise, sharing the incredible support the people at that organisation can give,” he said. “It’s a no brainer if you can get into that type of program.”
What should founders be thinking about when exploring incubators or accelerator programs?
The panel agreed working with an accelerator is a two-way street involving an exchange of ideas and resources.
David Burt from CSIRO’s ON Program, says all accelerators and incubators have individualised objectives and underlying values that influence whether a startup will benefit from their program.
“Every accelerator program in Australia can be traced back to a very specific patron or something it’s in service of. You’ve got to ask ‘what is that accelerator there to achieve, what are they going to be pushing you to do, and what are they going to be pushing you to say?’”
CIO of the Blue Chilli Group, Collette Grgic, added there’s no point applying for an accelerator program that has little to no relevance to your startup.
“It’s important to understand what they’re trying to create and how that exchange is going to work for you - invest your time somewhere that’s a match,” she said.
What are the biggest mistakes founders make when applying accelerator programs?
According to the panel members, applicants frequently fail to understand basic information about their own startups or the program they are applying for.
“The customer is something people really battle with and they think we’re going to work that out, but you have to know your customer,” said Abraham Robertson, Associate Director of Innovation NSW
Managing Director Australia for Microsoft for Startups, Emily Rich emphasised the importance of reading the fine print.
“We have an issue with people just not having read the eligibility criteria even though it’s so clear,” she said.
Burt stresses many founders aren’t clear on their goals and often overlook the value of professional feedback.
“When we look across our portfolio, the startups who have been successful are the ones who have an extra special ability to pay attention to feedback.”
Rich agrees, and says being able to receive criticism and constructive feedback is vital if founders want to get the best out of accelerator programs.
“One of the key mistakes entrepreneurs make is they go from confident to arrogant really quickly. A lot of programs won't want to work with you when it gets to that point as you're going to become impossible to coach.”
No idea is too wild
All panel members have heard their fair share of wild ideas – some were a pleasant surprise, going on to become million-dollar companies, while others never left the drawing board.
Grgic suggests no idea is too crazy if the people behind it are easy to work with and have the necessary skills.
“Your solution might be a little bit out there but if you’re passionate about solving a problem, then you will be able to take that idea and shape it, polish it and it will change over time.”
Rich says crazy ideas aren’t the real concern; she worries about a lack of originality.
“For me, the really terrible ideas are the ones that have been done over and over again.”
The panellists were in consensus that the entrepreneurship community is still in its infancy and there is great value in the sharing of information and collaboration between different accelerator programs.
As Grgic pointed out, a startup ecosystem in Australia definitely exists and is thriving but it’s also changing at a rapid rate and there is still much to learn.