What’s one thing first-time entrepreneurs should look for in an accelerator or incubator program?
The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council(YEC) (http://theyec.org),an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab (http://mystartuplab.com/),a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.
1. Excellent Startups
The quality of your accelerator class will have a larger impact on your startup than the investors and mentors in the program. Your fellow founders will help you work through early startup challenges. Your fellow startups will recruit the best investors to your demo day.Your fellow CEOs will become your strongest business network in the coming years.
2. The Program's Alumni
When I participated in an incubator program, the two most helpful resources were the other entrepreneurs in the program and the program's alumni. Both understood exactly what I was facing and were willing to help in any way they could. Also, interview as many alums as you can about the program. Their failures or successes should help you better understand the program's values and shortcomings.
3. Flexibility to Leave
Make sure you read all the fine print and find the best incubator for you, preferably one that gives you the flexibility to leave. Some incubators are making entrepreneurs contractually commit to staying for a minimum period of time. I wouldn't want to be obligated to stay for two years when my business and needs could change dramatically in the startup stage.
4. The Network
How good is the program at keeping ties with its alumni? How good is it at creating systems that allow you to connect with friends of friends? How open and willing are the people involved to share their contacts? Internal networks, such as incubators or accelerators, have to be able to pay off after the demo day.
5. The Opportunity to Fail Fast
Few entrepreneurs make it big the first time around. Therefore, any accelerator or incubator program is worthwhile as long as you have an environment that fosters education and personal growth. This isn't short-term thinking where you'll build a successful business now.Instead, think of this as an investment in the long term so you can fail fast and be better prepared next time.
6. Leadership and Support
Anyone can get money and office space, but the most difficult things to acquire in business are leadership and support.
7. Other Companies' Successes
Industry and domain expertise matter. That's why venture investors focused on a particular industry tend to outperform their diversified peers. Similarly, accelerators that have helped similar businesses scale quickly will be able to offer more value. Do your homework on previous companies backed by that accelerator and the background of the principals involved.
8. Deeply Engaged Mentors
Many accelerators boast a cohort of world-class mentors. The reality is that you will likely meet very few of them. Access to engaged mentors is one of the most critical perks that an accelerator provides. Don't just chase accelerators with name-brand mentors. Pursue programs with a track record of delivering highly engaged mentors with the domain expertise you need.
First-time entrepreneurs need to look for accelerators that offer the ability to create relationships with key individuals. Whether they're partners, advisors, potential clients or investors, the most important thing is building relationships. When all things are equal, people do business with people they like.
–Ryan Shank, Mhelpdesk
10. Relationships. Relationships. Relationships.
Investors,employees and customers have a few things in common: they make decisions based on the quality of the relationship, they make decisions based on trust and they make decisions based on the potential value. Incubator and accelerator programmers are no different. You should make your decision based on the quality of their relationships and the trust they've created in their community.