How people apply for just about anything--and stand out while they do it--has changed a lot over the years. Whether you're applying for a job, college, kindergarten or finding somewhere to live, it's all a matter of how much you can go above and beyond in spectacular fashion to stand out and get noticed. We see people applying for jobs at Techstars in some of the most creative ways--some that impress and others that leave us asking "What were they thinking?" We also receive tens of thousands of applications from founders who hope to be accepted into one of our 47 accelerator programs around the world. We've seen it all, which puts us at expert level on what works and what doesn't.

I asked our managing directors--these are the people who do all the meeting, greeting, and selection for which founders will join our mentorship-driven accelerators--for their pro tips on what moves an application to the yes list. The application process can be overwhelming and, honestly, it's the attention to detail that makes a difference. You want to stand out, be remembered and show off your team, team, team!  

Find out who you're trying to impress.

Do your research. It doesn't matter what accelerator program you're applying to, whether it's Techstars or not, you'll want to put some time in learning about the why, the who, and the how. Check out what the benefits are for each program, what the leaders or corporate partners specialize in, and what companies and mentors have participated in the past. Does your company fit in with the structure and spirit of the program? And, perhaps most importantly, does this program meet your needs, and are your values aligned with theirs? We're always impressed when someone starts by articulating why they are the best fit and how we align.

It's a competition. Who's on your team?

At Techstars, we believe that your team is your most valuable asset. We are looking to hear your story, see your personality, and learn about your journey as a founder. We want to know why you and your team are awesome and why we should be excited to be your partner to help accelerate your business. Include how you met, how long you've worked together, why you are all passionately committed to solving this problem, and why you are uniquely qualified to do so. At the end of the day, accelerator programs are really about investing in people, so the most important thing is to be yourself--this is your chance to make sure the person evaluating your application understands who's applying on the other end.

What's your BHAG?

When we look at the company and vision portion of an application, we are looking for a clear, immediate, and very Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Show us you've really thought about your business and have started to do something about it. Accelerator programs move quickly, so it is important that you demonstrate that you can rapidly execute and iterate, regardless of your stage. Use your application to prove you have what it takes to move at warp speed. Show us the momentum you've gained to date, what you've learned along the way, and how it's getting you toward that goal.

Show us your skeletons.

It can be tempting to inflate the financials on your application. Don't. At Techstars we have one guiding principle for communicating funding: be honest. That includes being transparent about former employees that may no longer be with the company but own > 5 percent.

We want to understand the realities of where you are, where you have been, and where we can help take you. Explain where your money is going and help us to see the full picture. When it comes to your cap table, it's pretty simple: we want to understand your cap table so we can help you. Remember, this is an investment conversation so we need to know who we are partnering with.

You do have competition.

Never in history has a company existed without a competitor. If it's not another company that you're competing with, then it's technology or even other people that will hack their way into solving the problem you're working to solve. One company doesn't make a market. So really think about who or what your competition is, and when you include it in your application be specific about why you compete. Having competitors is a good thing, it gives you someone to beat.

At Techstars we work with companies at all stages. Whether you've got customers now or are pre-product, don't let your misperceptions stop you from applying. You're never too far along to benefit from a network of mentors and other entrepreneurs who can accelerate your success.

Published on: Dec 11, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.