No one ever tells you how isolating and lonely being an entrepreneur can be.
If a member of the corporate world climbs an existing corporate ladder, an entrepreneur has to build the ladder while he or she is climbing it, often with limited resources. There are several ways to get more support, including finding mentors, exploring trade groups and organizations, or joining an accelerator.
Accelerators are underexposed and underutilized. The first startup accelerator was Y Combinator, which was founded in 2005 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and then later moved to Silicon Valley. TechStars and Seedcamp followed in 2006 and 2007. Since 2010, there has been considerable growth in the accelerator world.
Accelerators today have unique offerings and structures to support niche industries and missions. Finding a niche-focused accelerator can be powerful for your company's development and growth.
Here are three accelerators that are doing it right. The key to achieving a successful accelerator relationship is making sure your values and mission are in alignment with theirs.
Mark Eckhardt, CEO of COMMON, tells me that unlike the conventional accelerator structure, COMMON offers a membership where startups join for a monthly fee in exchange for an abundance of support, creative resources and coaching.
COMMON believes that many of the things that have not worked about capitalism can be solved by social entrepreneurs. The brand's mission is to make the world a better place by supporting companies at any stage who are eager to "adopt practices that, "take care of the planet and all the creatures on it."
COMMON's DNA gives their accelerator program a really different point of view. The perspective is rather unique - Eckhardt and COMMON's Founders, which include Ad legend Alex Bogusky, see companies through the lens of design, marketing, consumer insights and of course, social consciousness. This makes for an entry point different from Venture Capital firms and traditional accelerators when it comes to seeing the potential in businesses and working with entrepreneurs.
Jennifer Crews, founder of FLOCK, tells me,
"In July 2016, I was feeling frustrated about the lack of progress to the point that I was questioning my decision to start-up. I had a conversation with Mark Eckhardt, and forty minutes later I was back on track. Mark helped me reconnect with my original inspiration and FLOCK's mission, which is to enable parents to have both thriving families and fulfilling careers. Mark said: 'Anything or anyone that slows you down is impeding your ability to help families.' He gave me a simple way to discern the signal from the noise, and I have turned that into a practice of asking myself, 'Is this going to further or hinder my ability to help families?'"
If you want to start a social business or are a company that wants to change direction and adopt socially conscious practices, COMMON might be the right kind of accelerator to support your mission and give you the resources you need.
"Grid110 is an economic and community development organization working to activate the startup ecosystem in Downtown Los Angeles with its first initiative being an accelerator-like program that launched in July of 2015. The program provides complimentary office space, access to mentors, and connections to necessary resources to fashion technology startups and is in its second year," says Megan Sette, co-founder of Grid110.
Audrey Bellis, co-founder of Grid110 explains the inspiration behind this accelerator program.
"We chose to focus on fashion tech because garment manufacturing is native to downtown LA, and we wanted to build upon an industry that already existed in order to activate the ecosystem. Downtown LA has more manufacturers than Paris, NYC, and Milan combined."
Reeelit is a financial technology platform that automates your savings while looking for deals on your favorite products, so you can treat yourself to what you want with your own money, instead of debt. Reeelit launched Beta in May 2016 and was selected to participate in Grid110's second cohort in June 2016. CEO and Co-founder Daniela Corrente says,
"As an early stage startup that's defining its offerings while gaining traction, we really needed a program that was stable, but nimble enough to adapt to us. An accelerator that could fit our needs. Grid110 has a solid platform within the LA ecosystem, an extensive network, lots of experience, complimentary office space and access to PR. It was exactly what we were looking for."
3. MAKE IN LA
"Make in LA is one of only a handful of hardware accelerators in the world. Based in Los Angeles, Make In LA accepts applications from hardware startups from around the world, recently reviewing over 160 applicant teams, and chooses 5-7 per session (each session is called a cohort). The companies receive space, mentorship, coaching, and funding to move their business forward," says Kevin Faul, Make in LA Advisor.
Mauricio Teran, co-founder of Emerge, a hardware company for virtual controls, joined Make in LA as an accelerator, and says,
"Being exposed to hardware and manufacturing experts, even at an early stage definitely made us think and plan ahead on things we might have not considered until later in our tech development."
In 12 months, Emerge will have launched an MVP and VR Touch DevKit to B2B early adopters, developed use-cases that validate their product, will be ready for mass manufacturing as they transition into a Series A funding - all of which could not have been accomplished without the support of Make in LA.
Make in LA runs on a conventional accelerator structure taking between 6 and 8% equity and is able to take on robotics, VR, wearables, and all things hardware.
QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE YOU JOIN AN ACCELERATOR
Finding the right accelerator will be the foundation for your growth. Make sure you choose wisely. Do your homework.
- Interview the coach that will be your point of contact. Make sure you have communication chemistry and feel understood and supported.
- Ensure their resources are a good fit for your business model and would allow for you to have exponential growth that you wouldn't be able to have without their support.
- Evaluate the logistics. Do you need office space or access to technology that they will be able to provide? Is the location convenient for you?
- Can you handle their curriculum or program? Will you be able to thoroughly go through their support system?
- Do you need to give away equity? If so, how much? Will they help you raise funding thereafter? Identify exactly what you are getting in exchange for the equity.
- Make sure you have terms that allows you to give the equity back if you drop out of the program. Some accelerators may not have that option. Evaluate the dissolution options with legal counsel.
- Interview previous startups in their accelerator programs and see what their takeaways were and how you could make the most of your experience.