4 Tips on How to Get into a Startup Accelerator

Thinking about applying to to a startup accelerator like TechStars, DreamIt or Excelerate Labs.  My suggestion: stop thinking about it, and go do it. Like, right now.  We (GiveForward) participated in Excelerate Labs in 2010.  It was by and far the best decision we’ve made as a company.

Here are four tips based on our experience that can help you improve your chances.

(1) Highlight your traction – By the time we applied, we had already processed $1 million in donations on our site and had received a number of nice stories in the media. If you have any traction whatsoever, don’t be bashful about highlighting it in your application. Put it at the very top with gold stars around it. According to feedback we got from the director of Excelerate, the $1 million in processed donations was the number one reason we were accepted.

(2) Apply now! No really, apply like yesterday or last week. We applied on the first day applications opened last year and it gave us a leg up. The folks running these accelerators are going to be sifting though something like 500 – 1000 applications. They are going to choose 10 companies. If you are application #857 your idea better be damn good.

(3) Network the hell out of it. After we applied, we looked at the list of Excelerate mentors. We asked anyone we knew on the list to write a letter of recommendation for us. We also went to the Excelerate pre-selection cocktail hours and made sure to schmooze with the folks running the show. And then we followed up several times via email.

Super-bonus tip – everyone and their mother will be trying to suck up to the directors of the program. The directors are going to shake hands with a million people and they are NOT going to remember you, even if you do get a chance to meet them. Instead of going this route, introduce yourself to the intern who likely planned the event you’re attending. You’ll have more time to strike up a real conversation with her and she’ll be more likely to remember you when it comes time to making final selections.

(4) Get Lucky. Our company, GiveForward, is a crowdfunding platform for out-of-pocket medical expenses. Coincidentally, right before we applied, the director of Excelerate had come across a situation where his wife’s colleague needed to raise money for medical expenses, so he immediately saw the need for our services. Moral of the story – no matter how awesome your company is, sometimes it really just comes down to being in the right place at the right time.

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4 thoughts on “4 Tips on How to Get into a Startup Accelerator

  1. Tom Ordonez says:

    I think that the concept of an accelerator is confusing for many startups. What type of startups apply for that. Those with untested market, unfinished product, or those that are already making money?

    • ethanaustin1 says:

      Both. In our class of ten companies, we were probably the farthest along by the time we applied (which helped us out during the application process) but there were several companies who were per-launch as well.

  2. Jesse says:

    Any other specifics on what you did to distinguish yourself from all the other applicants?

    • ethanaustin1 says:

      We were farther along than most of the other companies, which was an advantage because we could show some traction. I give huge props to the pre-launch companies who made it in to the program because all they are selling is an idea, which is incredibly difficult. If you can get into a program with just an idea I have huge respect for you because it means you are an excellent salesperson, which is one of the most important skills for a startup CEO.

      Aside from the traction, establishing yourself in the community before you apply will help you. Check out an article by Mark Suster where he talks about investing in Lines not Dots. Become a line and you’ll have a much better shot.

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