Accelerators are popping up everywhere. When they first began, companies could assume their program would be able to take care of many hurdles new companies faced. Funding was a lot more likely, and world-class mentors were at your disposal. Today, this is no longer the case. The accelerator market is becoming saturated. Communities all over the world have created accelerators to boost startups in their area. In the process, they now are pumping out cohorts faster than ever.

Because of the expansion of accelerators, companies must change their strategy to be successful. If you're thinking about going to an accelerator, you're going to have to go in with different expectations. In today's world, here's how you should adjust your strategy before you start your program.

1. Focus less on the pitch and more on sales

Almost every accelerator puts a lot of emphasis on their program's demo day. This is the culmination of the program, where investors come and check you out. Many programs focus a good amount of time from day 1 helping you craft your pitch. While this would make sense if you were going to Y-Combinator or Techstars, for most accelerators this is not a good strategy. If you're not in a top accelerator, you no longer can rely on a great pitch to get funded from demo day.

Instead, drive sales. When you're accelerator capital runs out, it won't be a pitch that will get you money. It will be the traction you've created. Customers are understood around the world. You can leave your accelerator and go to any investor when you're overflowing with clients, and they'll give you a meeting. Because accelerators are everywhere these days, investors care a lot less about them on your resume. This is especially true if the investor isn't from the town or state your accelerator is in. What they will care about is what you've achieved during your program.

Don't worry about practicing your pitch on day 1. Concentrate on hitting milestones that will make you investable. Then when it comes time for demo day, you can talk about your journey to achieve the progress you made. A fancy pitch deck and great speaker is nice to have. What's better is telling potential investors you have clients, and a solid business model. If you can explain that without hyperventilating, you'll be just fine.

2. Don't just rely on accelerator mentors for advice

When you apply to accelerators, most of them will show a giant group of mentors that the program will have. Unfortunately, the time commitment from each mentor will differ greatly. You may be considering joining a program for one mentor, and then you'll find out that he/she is barely involved. With many accelerators in the same area, accelerator advisors might split time between programs. When this happens, you're going to develop less of a personal relationship. By the end of the program, most of your mentor communication will fizzle out unless you do a great deal of work.

To get the best mentor relations, look up potential advisors in your space outside of the accelerator. Then, send them an email or LinkedIn message asking them for ten minutes of their time to ask for advice. After you do this enough times, you'll notice that some of these people will want to be stay in touch with you and be a mentor. These are great coaches for you to have outside of the accelerator. It will give you a different perspective and open up new doors for you. You should still take advantage of your accelerator mentors. Just understand that you might need more help than your program can provide.

3. Find your own investors

You no longer can solely rely on your accelerator to make connections for you to get an investment. Investors are seeing pitches from accelerator companies all over the nation. It's hard for programs today to get their portfolio companies the same attention they could before.

To have the best shot at fundraising, you need to make your own relationships. Remember that angel investors invest in lines not dots. They want to develop a relationship with you, and see how you deal with obstacles before they invest.

So, try making connections to potential investors well before demo day. This doesn't mean you should move away from building your business. It means you should look to add mentors to your arsenal who might invest or connect you to investors. Use your network outside of the accelerator for introductions to potential investors. Make sure that someone is filming your demo day pitch, and then send that video out to the connections you made. It won't guarantee you funding, but it will definitely increase your chances.

Published on: Oct 3, 2014