Are business accelerators worth it?
Over recent years we’ve seen business accelerator programmes becoming increasingly popular. Governments see them as a good way to support new businesses and get them off to a good start. Private companies, often involving angel or VC investors, hope that such programmes will help them identify early-stage opportunities that they can help grow and then invest in at the appropriate time.
Before we go any further let’s clarify what is meant by the term ‘business accelerator’.
A business accelerator programme is usually one that gives developing companies access to advice, training, mentorship, investors and other support that will help them become stable, self-sufficient businesses. An accelerator programme can help from the early ‘lightbulb’ stage of a business, through to point where an entrepreneur needs help increasing scale or attracting investors.
This is the theory but do accelerator programmes really make difference to entrepreneurs? Some are free, but others can be quite expensive, so what are the benefits of joining this type of programme?
Let’s look at the biggest benefits of joining the right accelerator programme for your business idea or existing startup:
- Assessing and Validating Your Business Idea
Everyone with an ostensibly good idea thinks that theirs has heaps of potential and will plug an as-yet unfilled gap in the market, leading to untold riches and recognition. But of course, not every bright idea can be a success. In reality, most ideas for new products and services barely get off the ground.
Being selected to take part in the right accelerator programme gives you a chance to really validate your idea and test your hypotheses. Is there a market for your product? Do the financials stack up? Do the costs involved in the development and/or manufacture make it a viable proposition? Is it investable?
When we’ve had an idea for a while, it’s only natural to become emotionally invested in it. The mentorship and expertise found on an accelerator programme will help you to make a clear-headed and dispassionate evaluation of whether your idea has legs.
Furthermore, a good programme will help you make the adjustments and course-corrections that may be required – saving you from wasting months, if not years, barking up the wrong tree.
- Gaining Comprehensive Support
Many budding entrepreneurs who end up on accelerators don’t come from business backgrounds and soon learn that launching and growing a new business can be a huge and often daunting endeavour. Accelerator programmes will address participants’ knowledge gaps (not to mention offering plenty of reassurance and emotional support!) by providing mentors, success stories and subject experts to support you and equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to get your idea off the ground.
The valuable experience and hard-won advice shared by successful entrepreneurs can be lightning in a bottle for fledgling founders. Many programmes, such as BioAccelerate 2020, set aside time in their schedules to invite founders and directors in relevant fields to offer their wisdom and to share their journeys with the cohort.
- Learning What Investors Require
Unless you’re in the fortunate position of having inherited a fortune it is likely that, at some stage, you are going to need investment to grow your company and to bring your products or services to market.
Accelerator programmes tend to end with a pitch day or a demo day. This is where you will demonstrate the progress you’ve made over the course of the programme to a panel of industry experts and potential investors. Learning how to present to these types of audiences will be vitally important in securing funding at the different stages of your startup’s journey as you move forward.
- Making use of Cutting-edge Facilities
Though we are witnessing a proliferation of business accelerators at the moment, not all programmes are alike. There are, of course, overlaps and similarities: most programmes will teach participants about core topics such as finances, intellectual properly, branding, product development and so on. However, some programmes go further.
Sector-specific programmes, and ones that are aligned to universities or innovation parks, can often also provide access to cutting-edge facilities and equipment, not to mention the pre-eminent expertise that you would expect to find at an academic institution.
For example, the BioAccelerate programme offered at AberInnovation gives startups in the biotechnology, agri-tech and food and drink sectors access to their brand-new £40.5m campus, which includes a state-of-the-art biorefinery and a Future Food Centre.
- Meeting a Supportive Group of Like-minded Peers
Developing a new product or service can feel very lonely. By definition, there often won’t be many others doing the same thing, indeed you may be the only one. To help keep up your morale and motivation, it’s important to find a welcoming and supportive group of like-minded peers who are on similar journeys.
It is therefore imperative to find the right programme that has rigorous and robust selection criteria to ensure a cohort of inspiring and ambitious entrepreneurs. There are bound to be dark days and moments of doubt as you iterate and develop your proposition over the course of an accelerator programme. A supportive group to bounce ideas off and provide feedback will help you navigate these more challenging times.
In an increasingly interdisciplinary world where problems often require a multitude of solutions, these bonds may even lead to fruitful opportunities in the future.
An accelerator programme can make a vital difference to your business so spend time looking at the available programmes and what they offer. If you are willing to put in the hard work on the programme and follow through as you build your business, you will reap the benefits.
Written by Ben Jones, AberInnovation