Imagine an accelerator. Their program is amazing, the offer for startups second to none and the mentors assembled are master ninjas in their respective fields. They post the application online, do some buzz on social media and… get a bunch of random applications, some of which are not even from startups. This scenario already happens and is only likely to be more common.
At Fundacity we help many accelerators manage their application processes and wanted to share some of the best practices we learned from them. The first thing that the best accelerators do well is finding the niche, vertical or key differentiator that is strong enough to attract the best startups.
It’s getting crowded
The accelerator landscape is getting crowded and, for every new round, accelerators need to increasingly compete for the attention of best startups. This trend will only be stronger as new types of government-backed and corporate accelerators emerge. First of all, it’s difficult to compete with equity-free grants offered by government programs like Startup Chile, SEED (in Brazil) or Sirius in the UK. This model is being replicated in these countries that aim to attract foreign startups to boost local tech entrepreneurship and economic growth. Also, with each new round the quality of their programs and resources at their disposal tend to improve, which helps attract better quality founders and startups.
Corporate accelerators are still new and their value proposition not always clear. However, it looks like the number of them will increase, as more corporations are looking to startups to help them innovate. Their deep pockets and operational expertise in their respected fields will certainly be attractive to many startup founders. Today, tech giants like Microsoft and Google, consulting companies like Accenture and KPMG, media giants like BBC, telecoms like Orange (Orange Fab), T-Mobile (hub:raum) and Telefónica (Wayra) – all already have or are launching their acceleration programs. Even Coca-Cola has one!
On top of it, the economics of running a private accelerator are tough:
- Private capital available to fund startups is still limited in many countries.
- Operating costs of running an accelerator are higher than for early stage seed funds, as there are more resources needed (marketing, administration, workshops, demo days, office space, other perks for startups) to run a good program.
- Exits take time and are difficult to execute in many countries, mainly due to high costs and legal hurdles to do IPO, as well as limited number of potential acquirers for tech businesses.
This all means that many of the active accelerators of today will not be around in the near future as, similarly to many of the startups in their programs, they will simply run out of cash.
For all these reasons, a successful accelerator will be the one that consistently manages to attract the best startups to their program. How to do it? Become one of the top choice accelerators in a vertical or geography. Specialization increasingly seems to be the way to go, particularly in more developed startup ecosystems, mainly the US. Some of the examples include:
- Mach37 is a US-based accelerator designed to facilitate the creation of the next generation of cybersecurity product companies. With this very niche scope, they managed to attract top experts in the field as mentors and looking for international startups to join their program.
- Boomtown in the US focuses on the intersection of big data, media, and design. They help their startups with such things as branding and logo design, marketing, code feedback and usability testing.
- Incubation Station accelerates only market-validated consumer product companies to help them more effectively manufacture, distribute, market and grow their products and services. Among the graduates of their program you won’t find typical Internet startups, but rather manufacturers of wipes, burgers, sauces, etc.
- Amsterdam based Rockstart Accelerator actually runs two different programs: Web & Mobile and Smart Energy.
Accelerators that choose not to specialize in any vertical must find something else that puts them apart from the competition. This is very important, as most of them offer similar conditions. They are all mentor driven, their standard offer is usually approx USD 20k in cash and additional perks (estimated monetary value of which differs and real value is hard to measure), for 6-8% of startup’s equity, although accelerators in developing countries can take as much as 15%.
For example, Arturo Velez from Naranya Labs, a corporate accelerator from Mexico, says that startups are attracted not only by Naranya’s knowledge of mobile commerce, but also by the fact that they have offices located across Latin America and can help with international expansion. Similarly, Nxtp.Labs from Argentina is perceived as the best internationally connected early-stage investor in South America and their new office in Silicon Valley will only enhance that standing.
Stand out or…
Accelerators themselves are in a similar situation to the startups they attempt to accelerate. Most of them are young, many have not yet found product/market fit and, as a group, they still need to validate their business model to investors and value to startups. The jury is still out whether the accelerator concept is going to survive, so what they need to do now is learn from their own experience and industry best practices, iterate and potentially pivot.
We are going to share on this blog some more of the best practices used by accelerators from around the world, so stay tuned and… be different. If you are interested in what Fundacity does, check out our website. You can even talk to us there via our Live Chat.