So, you’ve got a killer idea for a startup and you’re considering joining an incubator or accelerator to kickstart your journey into success.
Before you dive in headfirst, let’s take a closer look at the reasons why you might want to apply, and whether the benefits are worth the costs.
To get funding
This is probably the biggest draw for startups considering an accelerator or incubator. Many programs offer pre-seed or seed funding in exchange for equity, which can be a fast compromise to get started. However, keep in mind that funding comes with strings attached: accelerators don’t offer the most generous deals, and you’ll be giving away a good portion of your company without the ability to negotiate the deal.
If you believe in your idea and can prove your chances of success, consider raising funds elsewhere.
Approach VCs (they’re actually quite keen to meet), apply for grants, crowdfund, or pitch to angel investors. You may get better deals than with accelerators, who “take more” because they provide more than just money. If, on the other hand, you’re not confident in your idea yet, seek inspiration and validation elsewhere before quitting your career to try the founder life.
To build a network
Being part of a startup community can be hugely beneficial, and accelerators can give you access to mentors, investors, and other talented individuals who might have the complementary skills you need to bring your idea to life. But do you really need an accelerator to meet them?
There are plenty of in-person and online events, communities like Y Combinator, and social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Discord where you can connect with like-minded people. Building relationships takes courage, initiative and nurturing – and no one will give their time and skills for free unless they believe in you: but that won’t change within an accelerator.
For the branding
Being associated with a well-known accelerator like Y Combinator or Techstars can give your startup credibility and attract attention from the media and investors. But let’s face it, customers don’t care about your accelerator, they care about your product. Early employees will join you because of your vision, team, and salary, regardless of your affiliations. And investors will ultimately make their decisions based on your traction and team.
While it might be cool to say you’re part of an accelerator, it’s really not essential to succeed.
To get customers
If you already know you need to validate your idea with customers, you don’t need an accelerator to help you with it. Roll up your sleeves and get creative, even if it means building the resilience and courage to approach real paying customers. If you’re not sure where to start or how to talk to prospects, work on developing the skills: don’t count on the accelerator to do it for you.
For the motivation
Building a startup is tough, and if you believe in your idea and you’re sure you will succeed, do you really need an accelerator to motivate you? If it’s the vibrancy you seek, join a co-working space or participate in startup events. If it’s the self-discipline you lack, look for online resources or ask a friend to hold you accountable for your goals. Remember, no accelerator in the world can give you motivation if you don’t have it yourself – and some people actually find their high-pressure strategy to be anxiety-inducing and counterproductive.
For the mentoring
If you want to “accelerate” your knowledge by benefitting from the experience of the experts, accelerators provide good frameworks with plenty of activities and advice that can definitely help. However, there are other ways to learn from others’ mistakes, such as mentoring programs from seasoned entrepreneurs, product designers, and VCs that are less expensive, offer more face time, and may be more targeted to your needs (e.g. female founders or sector-based).
Incubators and accelerators are great ways to speed up your path to entrepreneurship but consider the cost-opportunity. You may be more successful with different strategies depending on your idea, business experience, technical skills, network, and – ultimately, confidence.