Joining an accelerator program is a big decision for any entrepreneur. Today there are more than 140 accelerator programs in Europe, a phenomenal number considering there were only a handful just five years ago.
On a daily basis we meet people who ask what does an accelerator program give to a startup? why should you join? and what does it take to join one? It is a big decision to make. First, you should consider if you need to join an accelerator. Second, it is necessary to weigh the pros and cons – does it require you to relocate and, if so, can you afford to relocate (with regard to both time and money)?, what is your primary market?, what is your ultimate goal post-program?, is it worth giving away some equity in exchange for a potentially higher success rate? And finally, which accelerator should you choose and based on what criteria?
We could answer all these questions but we decided to talk to Lesya Li, Head of Content at our 2016 Startup-in-Residence, Railsbank. Lesya has also gone through Techstars, where she met Railsbank CEO and co-founder, Nigel Verdon.
With experience in the two biggest accelerator programs globally, Lesya has a deep understanding of what you need to know before you join a program. We are thrilled that she was happy to share her experience and hopefully help you determine whether an accelerator program is right for you.
1. Startupbootcamp FinTech is not the first accelerator you were a part of. What is the value accelerator program offers to startups? What are your key takeaways from the last three months spent with nine fellow FinTech companies?
Joining a leading accelerator program is an incredible experience, opportunity, and an enormous privilege – it gives your business bold, some say “an unfair” competitive advantage.
Being part of an accelerator program can get your business an initial cash injection, yet it’s not the underlying reason to join the program. It’s there to keep the business going for the length of the program or relocate, but it’s the least important reason to join an accelerator. The money roughly represents about 10% of why you should join the program. The value is not in the money; it’s about the long-term opportunities and success in your business. You can get your business funded much faster than on your own due to the network you gain access to; but essentially before you are ready to take any external money you need to know what you are building, who are your clients, how you test your value proposition, how to get your customers on board, what are your challenges as entrepreneur to build a successful business. And how to overcome these problems – this is what you get within three months.
It’s all about getting immersed in a well-curated program with a vast network of star-studded mentors, advisors and partnership opportunities vital for any young business striving to succeed and scale faster. We call it “serendipity by design” when one meeting for a cup of coffee and advice might lead to a bigger life-changing opportunity. It’s all about the fellowship, the camaraderie of working side by side with talented entrepreneurs participating in the same program as you do; bouncing ideas off each other, providing feedback that often leads to a-ha moments; growing stronger together, graduating and benefiting from a strong alumni network which lasts for a lifetime. We cannot possibly put a price tag on that!
2. Railsbank was Startup in Residence for Startupbootcamp FinTech 2016 Program in London. What have you learned throughout the program?
Railsbank’s role at Startupbootcamp Fintech was laser focused on using our experience of successfully building early stage finTech companies to mentor other founders in the cohort on establishing and nurturing a young finTech business. To provide some colour, Nigel and Clive have founded several successful companies before, the experience that they share to help young startups avoid sharp bends and pitfalls of the entrepreneurial journey is priceless. The long-term value of the wisdom they share with other companies is difficult to put into words.
We loved the honeypot of talent gathered here, and the vibrancy of Startupbootcamp atmosphere is next to none! It has been our great pleasure to meet and work alongside brilliant and highly motivated entrepreneurs. What’s amazing is just how passionate each team in the program is about building better products and provide a better experience to people; skyrocketing their companies to the next level.
Joining Startupbootcamp allowed us to establish meaningful relationships with bright individuals, which will carry over into the long and exciting journey ahead. One of the largest takeaways from working super hard with other entrepreneurs is the sense of camaraderie and friendships that are made during the program. All of us have a common goal, and these are the times when you make friends for life and could easily tap into the network that would always support you even after the program; the deep-rooted value of that is also hard to express. This is one of the biggest perks of being in an accelerator.
3. There are sometimes very strong opinions about accelerator programs requiring startups to give up a small amount of equity when joining the program. What are your thoughts on this?
Giving up a small percentage of equity in exchange of the network you get access to, people who will help you build your business, get your first customers on-boarded, get your first round of investment in on top of the initial cash injection by the program, meet incredible entrepreneurs in the program going thought the same challenge – this is something you cannot put a price tag on.
4. What do you consider the biggest value of the Demo Day?
Filtering process of getting into a program it creates a honeypot of talent; that’s what makes it attractive to angel investors and VC to come and meet the teams, no one likes the FOMO. They travel to MEET YOU, not the other way around.
Entrepreneurship is a backbone of any healthy economy, and launching a startup is hard work. For some businesses, it makes good sense to apply and get into an accelerator simply because an accelerator concentrates that hard work and surrounds founders with people who have vested interest in making their startups succeed. Entrepreneurs who like being challenged will exceed all their expectations and thrive in an accelerator.
Being a part of the accelerator program is not a journey for fainthearted! You will have to learn to adjust and change your opinions quickly. You have to leave your ego at the door and be open to new ideas, potentially pivot your business and re-work what you’ve already worked on for years! It’s all worth it, for the sake of the success of your company. When presenting your business on stage for hundreds of investors and industry experts and potential clients you can be very proud of yourself. Your business has 80% higher potential to succeed after the accelerator program. Take your chances and be among this 80% who will succeed rather than the 80% who doesn’t.
Learn more about Startupbootcamp FinTech program here and keep up to date with FinTech news in Twitter!
Our Startup in Residence Railsbank will have some great news soon, so stay tuned and keep an eye out on their Twitter