Let me start off by saying this: as a general rule, any accelerator program that requires equity in exchange for "access to a directory of mentors and space" is a big no-go. You want your cap table composed of people with skin in the game. Without money down, these guys are predictably less motivated to help your company succeed.
My advice to first-time entrepreneurs is to give a wide berth here. Don't part with any meaningful equity stake unless it is for a monetary investment. I can guarantee that every itemized benefit of these programs, others are giving away for free. Many a successful entrepreneur is readily willing to share experiences or open his/her Rolodex to help out the next wave of innovators.
And one more thing (although I would think that this goes without saying): never pay to be in an accelerator. That is a complete crock; I can't believe those even exist.
In the case of my company, Poacht, we were always acutely aware that we would need the help of an accelerator to get the business up and running. When we started there were two big hurdles: finding clients and fundraising. While our networks were supportive, they mostly consisted of friends from high school and college who were in no position to make investments or key introductions to prospective clients. We needed an accelerator and we wanted Entrepreneur's Roundtable Accelerator (ERA).
It took us two tries and we were almost out of cash, but we were finally accepted. To be one of the 10 chosen out of a couple thousand felt pretty good--that is, until we gave our first group pitch. We were considerably more humble after that.
The four months were taxing, to be sure, but we walked away with a real revenue-generating product. It was a substantial improvement from the pathetic MVP that we entered with. A few aspects made all the difference.
1. Unlimited access to the partners.
You have an ops guy, a tech guy, and a VC guy running the show. Unlike other programs, they are full-time and always available to support the founders. I can say in all honesty that I would never have had a passable pitch deck if it weren't for the partners' constant feedback. Just last week, Jon (ops) helped me adjust our sales touch points.
2. A tightly knit, supportive ecosystem
ERA is smaller, by choice. Most of the alumni companies are in New York so it is easy to get a large number back into the office for open hours, pitches, and drinking events. Magic happens here. The alumni have been through everything: Series A,B-Z, acquisitions, patent troll suits, co-founder disputes, hiring issues, etc. They become your informal advisers.
3. A streamline to investors
Recently, I was on a panel when an investor from kbs Ventures said that they were infinitely more likely to take a meeting with an ERA company. "It already has a stamp of approval from outside investers. At least some due diligence has been done for us, which makes our job easier. We are more willing to make the bet."
So back to my initial question--is it worth it? For Team Poacht, it was invaluable.