As someone who has advised, built and ran accelerators (full disclosure — in all cases together with an amazing team which contributed/contributes way more to the cause than I ever could) I surely have opinions on what makes a good accelerator program.
As much as accelerators often tout themselves as the place to learn everything about entrepreneurship, I believe that this is actually not the most important part (by far).
Today we live in a world where information is not only plentiful but also (mostly) free. I honestly doubt that any accelerator program can teach you anything you couldn’t also learn by yourself. Starting — check and check. Design Thinking — check. Lean Startup — check. Business Model Canvas — check. Fundraising — check and check. Metrics — check. Traction — check. Scaling — check.
Truly the list is endless and Google is your friend.
Of course there is a difference in learning on your own and being in a class environment with an expert/instructor and a group of peers. But would that be worth giving up precious equity? Maybe not.
The other thing people often say about accelerators is that they provide a positive pressure cooker environment. A space (both physically as well as in time) where you focus solely on your startup and are driven and motivated by racing against the ticking clock.
Again — maybe. I know plenty of people who simply recreated this environment for themselves by moving their team to a different location for a specific period of time, work out of co-working spaces and put deadlines against their deliverables. Friends of mine moved their team from Berlin to Barcelona for 3 months, rented a nice AirBnB and worked their butts off during the day, had fun in the evenings and hit the beach on Sundays for some well deserved rest. In many ways this sounds better to me than attending an accelerator program…
Which leaves us with the real value an accelerator can and should bring in my opinion — network.
The best accelerators wrap their founders into a carefully crafted and arranged web of mentors, advisors and partners who truly have the capacity to take startups to the next level. I have seen countless times how sometimes a single deep and meaningful interaction with a single mentor can make all the difference for a startup.
With all that being said — when you apply for an accelerator spend time asking yourself what you really want to get out of the experience, what your needs are and how this particular accelerator fulfills those needs. Ask previous participants (most accelerators list their portfolio companies) what their experience was and ask specifically how a particular accelerator delivers on the network piece.
And if you happen to be in an accelerator or went through one — why don’t you share your experience (good and bad) in our Facebook Group?