Techstars Boulder Shows Us How and Why To Accelerate
I recently had the chance to attend Techstars Boulder Demo Day, the grandfather of Techstars programs and one of the most coveted accelerator programs in the start-up community. The night was great; we were introduced to five new start-ups solving tough, valid problems. My personal favorites go out to Orderly, Maxwell and AncestorCloud, as they’re all solving problems I have a personal interest in: trying to buy a home, trying to understand my insurance, and trying to learn more about my heritage. I’m not alone!
Much of my PR career has been with early stage start-ups, so I understand how difficult it can be to get your product off the ground and get the recognition it deserves. Pair this with the knowledge I gleaned from Starr Baker’s experience mentoring the TechStars Boulder class of 2016, and you have some great insights into what to expect if you’re considering pursuing an accelerator for your business:
- Why an accelerator program? Getting into an accelerator program is extremely difficult and highly sought after. Being able to tack on that program’s name to your resume is akin to having an Ivy League school as your alma mater. It stands out to others and opens up a network that you may not have otherwise, such as: exposure to VC firms, angel investors, other successful startup founders who can mentor you, a team of hands-on trainers who will help you get your start-up into shape, supporters who will be invested in your company’s success and a plethora of other benefits.
- Now which accelerator? There are numerous programs available across the world and some may be more suited for your particular industry and business goals. My suggestion would be to do your homework and research multiple programs, their alumni, their mentors, and whether or not people were happy with their experience. The Global Accelerator Network is a good resource to help you vet multiple options at once. Bonus: some programs charge a fee to participate- keep this in-mind when researching.
- How do I get accepted? There are many factors that the program considers when vetting applications. First, you must be farther along than just an idea. There needs to be something tangible for the managing partners to hang their hats on. Second, it’s not just about your business or product idea. There are many great ideas out there, and the next Uber has already been invented 200 times over, so what will help you get to the top of the application stack? Your people. Many accelerators will put the emphasis on your team, your experience, and your ability to be entrepreneurs. Tout your people, your previous accomplishments, and why you make a great team- this will help managing partners see YOUR potential, not just that of your business.
- How do I get the most out of it? Go in with an open mind! It’s going to be a grueling, labor-intensive ride but well worth it. It goes without saying but you must put in the time and invest in the program in order to get its full advantage. This, in conjunction with, listening to your mentors and managing partners advice will help ensure you get the most out of your time with that program. Your mentors and advisors have all proven they are capable of guiding a business to success and they will take a personal interest in making sure your company achieves similar success. It’s also important to note that some advice may feel harsh but is always in the best interest of the company. For example, many companies go in as one thing and come out of the program as something different. There is a chance this may happen and it could mean greater success for you. Therefore be open to criticism and the holes and flaws that others will inevitably point out in your business model.
- Demo Day and beyond– After what may feel like an eternity, you’ll finally get the chance to present your company to a room full of people on Demo Day. You’ve worked diligently, taken your mentors advice, worked out any kinks you may have encountered, worked well with your team, and produced a business that’s worthy of being shown off. The audience will host alumni, accelerator hopefuls, tech enthusiasts, investors, family, friends, and various innocent bystanders but all will be cheering you on. From this one presentation you’ll be in the press, you’ll grow user numbers over night, you’ll find new mentors and advocates, and much more. The opportunities don’t end once you’ve crossed the graduation stage, either. After Demo Day you officially become an alumni and have access to the large network I discussed earlier.
And if you were ever in need of some inspiration, just take a look at the then GearBox- more commonly known today as Sphero- presenting the technology that would one day become the Star Wars sensation, BB8, at Techstars Boulder Demo Day 2011.