Tips on applying for the URBAN-X accelerator program

Tristan Bel
Published in
4 min readDec 22, 2022

This is a companion guide to our application form, that goes into more detail about our process and gives you insight into why we do things the way we do them.

We start the “mini essay” (mini=small) part of the application with this advice:

We receive hundreds of applications to review for each cohort, here is how yours can stand out.

  1. Marketing talk doesn’t work on us, so please avoid vague or hyperbolic language.
  2. Is your startup focused on making cities more sustainable, livable, or resilient? If not, no need to apply. If yes, please make sure you convey that.
  3. Please answer the four questions thoughtfully and concisely. We don’t need a lot of words, just words that say a lot.

The first point addresses the tendency to present a grand vision of what you’re trying to achieve, or the need to sell your idea. We are pretty much immune to that language and all it does is make us have to sort through the terms to find the ones that have actual meaning. You can avoid words like “revolutionize” or “disrupt” and simply be specific and to the point.

The second seems basic and yet some applications are completely off thesis — an organic skincare brand, tokenized education credentials, plant-based protein food. If you have a crypto product focused on solving a city problem, make it explicit from the get go. Also, if there’s not a natural fit with urbantech, finding some vague decarbonization or urban impact link doesn’t help make a good case.

To the third point, please don’t copy paste something that remotely relates to the question, and please be concise. We know you’re probably applying to a lot of these, but it’s only four questions. This is the resume that leads to the interview. You just need to pique our interest.

Application Questions

We simply ask 4 questions because they cover everything we need to know to decide if it’s worth setting a time to talk. The sequence is important because each point validates the next.

Question 1: What product or service are you building? Please be concrete and descriptive, so that we don’t have to guess what it is, i.e. no marketing speak. Explain how your solution works.

Yes, you need to be in love with the problem, and most startups do product and/or market pivot at some point, but If we can’t visualize what you’re working on, we simply can’t relate to what else you’re going to tell us.

Question 2: Who is the founding team and why are you the right people to build this company? Please briefly talk about specific achievements before this startup. Links to LinkedIn profiles are appreciated.

Once we locate your product on our mental map, we want to know about you and your team. We don’t need your full resumes but do highlight the parts of your experience that reinforces the trust that you are equipped to build a tech company, which is a very risky endeavor. The more you have for yourself at the start, the better. Again, not all your achievements, just one or two directly relevant to your venture.

Question 3: What’s distinctive about your approach to solving the problem?

Now that we see the product and who’s building it, we want to understand how you’re different, what makes your solution innovative. To be distinctive, you need to be able to compare your product to other players in the market. Every time we hear that there’s no competition, we know that either you haven’t looked at it carefully or you’re too far out for investors and customers to relate to what you’re doing.

Question 4: What’s your progress so far? Tell us about the status of your product, if you have LOIs or pilots or paying customers, or any kind of validation of your idea.

Finally, we want to know that you can get sh*t done. If you’re applying to our accelerator program, you should be working on your startup full time or close to it. You should be able to show results in relation to the time you’re spent on it, to the resources you’ve had access to so far, to the scope of building your product, and to the type of industry you’re entering. People who are able to get maximum validation with minimum expenses of time and money are particularly attractive to us, because we can interpolate what you’ll be able to do with our support and your next round of funding.

That’s it! We’re looking forward to receiving your application.