The emergence of accelerators worldwide has been a reality for a while already. In November 2013, according to Tech.eu, there were already 100 active accelerators in Europe. The numbers seem to keep increasing ever since — especially with the launch of vertical accelerators powered by enterprises (e.g. Barclays Accelerator). Meanwhile in the US, YCombinator changed their deal but, at least in Europe, the deals of accelerators seem to have become more standardized. On the other hand, new public initiatives to foster entrepreneurship are emerging throughout Europe: from government grants (e.g. Enterprise Ireland) to public VC investing with private VCs or angels in early-stage ventures (e.g. Portugal Ventures).
But is money enough? Not really nowadays. Validation and traction, preferably with paying customers, are the first signs the startup founders are on to something. This year at Rockstart Accelerator we saw more applications from companies with relevant market traction. But how does a founder get there? There are several ways, but a fast and effective one is going through pre-accelerators.
A pre-accelerator traditionally runs for a period of 1–12 weeks, either full-time or part-time, to help solo founders or teams validate assumptions on their business model and product(s). The program usually includes a formal curriculum, mentoring and pitching. Among examples of pre-acceleration programs are Startup Next, Founder Institute, Entrepreneur First, MVP Academy, Oxygen Labs, Tetuan Valley or Startup Pirates, the last of which I co-founded back in 2011.
Over the last years, from what I’ve seen, pre-accelerators also became a great way to:
- Get into a lean startup mindset — most of the curricula of pre accelerators are heavily focused on the lean startup and customer development methodologies. An example is Startup Next that was built in close cooperation with Steve Blank. This knowledge help early stages founders to think lean early on.
- Meet potential co-founders and other like minded people — these programs are great to meet not only experts or experienced entrepreneurs but also co-founders. Some programs like Entrepreneur First only accept individual applications, in a model that has very interesting results with formed teams receiving investment from Y Combinator or Index Ventures.
- Get easy-access to the startup ecosystem — most of the programs are powered by startup communities. Even in international branches like Startup Pirates, Founder Institute or Startup Next. Consequently the events gather main actors of the startup ecosystem (e.g. investors or incubators). Entrepreneurs get to know the right people from the startup scene who will help them in getting investment or expanding their customer base.
- Get exposure to accelerators and investors — Most of the companies will need to raise funds sooner or later. Pre-accelerators are usually a great way to get the teams closer to being investment-ready. In addition to that, the connections of the program organizers with local angels and accelerators increases the startup’s exposure to early-stage investors. A good example of that is the partnership between Startup Next and the Global Accelerator Network, allowing the best teams to present their companies to the heads of various accelerators.
- Access to equity-free knowledge — A large number of pre-accelerators are equity-free. During times where entrepreneurs have bad experiences in accelerators, companies can gain momentum and progress way faster without giving any equity away.
By looking at the results of Startup Next and Founder Institute it’s clear how impactful pre-accelerators can be. Were you a part of a pre-accelerator? What else did you get out of it? I’d love to know more about your experience. Add your comments on Quora.