Just this past week I finished up the 12-week program in the Merrimack Valley Sandbox Accelerator program. I had never been in a program like this before and I only knew one other person who had been. It was an interesting experience…some good, some bad…so I wanted to share some of my tips for entrepreneurs and edupreneurs who might be considering an Accelerator program. And I want to capture my thoughts while they’re still fresh!
1. Choosing an Accelerator. The first thing to consider is what kind Accelerator would most benefit you. Accelerator programs range from very general, accepting any kind of startup business, to very specific, targeting a particular category. Depending on what you are doing, you’ll want to consider this. Our program was general and we were the only edtech company in the group. In retrospect, I think that having peers who were also focused on edtech would have been helpful. So I suggest looking around for Accelerators that are focused on your kind of business.
2. Mentors. In our cohort, the entrepreneurs had a wide array of experiences and satisfaction with their mentors. We didn’t have much chance to get to know the potential mentors before choosing who we would like to work with. So, on my team, we selected our mentors based, to a large extent, on the connection we felt with the people. In addition, we chose mentors who asked us the really tough questions right out of the gate. Our goal was to get mentors who would really challenge us, make us better and really raise the bar. We were very fortunate because that’s what we got and they were amazing and invaluable. Not all of the entrepreneurs did. Some mentors seemed more concerned with being nice to the entrepreneurs than with challenging them. If you’re an entrepreneur, that isn’t doing you any favors. So pick tough mentors, open your ears to listen to what they say, and try not to be defensive when they say they don’t think you have a viable business model. Your job is to convince them. This is what will prepare you for talking to investors later.
3. Do the Work. If you’re like me, you’ll be in an Accelerator program with other entrepreneurs who have a wide range of experience and maturity. If you are someone with 15+ years of experience in your industry and you are in a program with very junior level entrepreneurs, it can be frustrating. Sometimes it will feel like the program is targeting the lowest common denominator. Just let that go. Do your work. Try to learn one new thing from each person you meet. Follow up on every single thing your mentors tell you to do. And ask for help when you need it. You are there to work on your business. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by what’s going on with the other entrepreneur teams. You’re there for you.
4. Go with the Flow. You’ll go into the Accelerator with an idea that you believe in. But you won’t have all of the details worked out. Lots of ideas will come up. Some you’ll like, some you’ll hate. People will give you great advice, people will give you terrible advice. The important thing is just to roll with it. Be open to it all, kick it around in your head, then keep what you like and dump what you don’t. At the end of the day, it’s your business and you don’t have to do what anyone else says. But be open to things you haven’t considered before, because it could change everything…for the better!
Have you been in an Entrepreneurial Accelerator program? What are your tips?
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One last thought: when you are in an Entrepreneurial Accelerator program, you get out of it what you put into it! So don’t rely on the program to “give” you what you need…step up and take it!