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What an Accelerator Program is Really Looking For

Some teams impress us by coming on strong. Some build their case slowly. But all the teams we invest in have certain things in common.
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Six brand-spanking-new companies with very energetic and passionate founders started week one of our 12-week accelerator program on March 11. It’s a very exciting time for all of us in the Triangle Startup Factory, including our fabulous mentors, who volunteer their time to work directly with the founders. To celebrate our investment in their companies and to introduce them to the community, we hold an open house. It is one of my favorite events. Kind of like a debutante ball. Everyone smiles.

At our open house I was asked why these companies, out of the 150 that applied, made it through. It is a question we get all the time. There are really two different answers, reflecting two kinds of relationships.

Most of our founders are strangers to us until they make their application. Then, in a matter of weeks, we run them through our process and methodology, some of which I’ve written about previously. There are three essential steps:

  • Screen for individual and team entrepreneurial DNA
  • Screen for idea and market
  • Screen for our ability to accelerate their growth

Each of the three steps serves as a gate with pass/fail implications. We are getting better and better at identifying key characteristics at each gate, and so we are getting happier and happier with the entrepreneurs and concepts we commit to.

The other way of getting into TSF is by developing what we call a drip, drip, drip relationship. Sometimes I really like this slower, more methodical way of getting to know a company, its people, and its product.

Last fall, a group from Washington, D.C. drove down to Durham to attend one of our applicant open house events. They followed up a few months later to schedule some time during our open office hours. Some emails went back and forth. Some time after that, they submitted a formal application.

Their product is a digital comment card, focused for now on restaurants. What, other than the fact that the market reaction to the product has been extraordinary, made us want to get into business with them?

  • They asked great questions and listened to a few nuggets of advice,
  • They made some product adjustments over that time,
  • They acquired a minimum number of early customers and tested their application over a couple thousand users. (Yes, a couple thousand.)

In this time period they revealed to us that they are smart, passionate, willing to adjust their model, and able to create and react to data--all of the things we want in a Triangle Startup Factor team.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Mar 28, 2013

CHRIS HEIVLY | Columnist | Managing Director

Chris Heivly was a co-founder of MapQuest (which sold to AOL for $1.2 billion), sole managing director of 77 Capital (a $25 million venture fund), and an executive at five software companies. Currently, he is one of two managing directors of The Startup Factory, a seed investment fund making 10 to 14 new investments per year. A national writer and speaker about startups and startup communities, Heivly is also the founder of the Big Top Job Fair.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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