Accelerators such as Y-combinator and Techstars play an important in the startup ecosystem. With a large network, dedicated staff, and central locations, they provide not only access to funding, but also equip entrepreneurs with the training to scale a business.
I spent some time as a startup accelerator associate, helping out Startup Boost New York.
Over the course of a few weeks, I learned a great deal about entrepreneurship. My experience centered around screening companies for the program, learning from the sessions, and meeting many founders and mentors along the way.
Picking The Select Six For The Accelerator
Pre-accelerators support companies at the earliest stages.
Startups exist in the stages of idea, prototype, validation, early customers, and scale. As a volunteer-driven organization, Startup Boost provides startups at the validation stage (those with working MVPs) with an acronym called “air” – accelerators, investment, and revenue through six weeks of pitch coaching, educational presentations, and mentor sessions.
To make the most out of the program’s resources, the organizing team selected six companies out of all the applicants on the F6S platform, resulting in an 8% acceptance rate.
Helping with cohort selection, I screened companies with the lens of where it made sense to use blockchain to achieve a technological advantage and not as an added feature. With all of the hype surrounding blockchain, it was easy to incorporate the technology for any reason, hence the importance of diving into each applicant company’s core business model.
Reviewing applications, I filtered the list down to companies with a working MVP and had calls with a few. With the recommendations from the entire team in hand, we selected our companies and kicked off the program.
Pitching, Teachings, and mentor sessions
Founders must be able to pitch their company to potential investors, advisors, or partners. At Startup Boost, each session began with pitching practice: teams would give a 30-second or one-minute pitch, receiving feedback from the mentors.
Over the course of the program, I saw each founder improve, taking the advice given and incorporating them into new ways of presenting. One team switched from originally having both co-founders present to pitching with only one speaker, drawing more attention to the content over the speaker. I remember one rule of thumb on pitching: make a 30-second pitch as if you were introducing your company at a business gathering or social event; spend 2-minutes pitching with a full explanation covering all bases, leaving time at the end of follow-up questions.
With any new technology, noise dominates and it may be confusing to know what information to take in and what to ignore. Furthermore, first-timers amidst activities such as fundraising can make sudden decisions with long-term consequences. Hence the importance of education: each Startup Boost session focused on a different topic, presented by a domain experts. Whether it be understanding incentive structures to help better design blockchain systems, learning about smart contracts and hiring developers focused on this, or raising funds, each session came from someone experienced in the field to provide practical knowledge.
These group sessions helped the collective cohort with knowledge and practice. The individual mentor sessions helped the founders in hearing from different, but all extremely experienced, backgrounds. With the general theme of entrepreneurship and the specific focus on blockchain, mentors came from these two camps, with some notable individuals including a senior member of a blockchain “conglomerate”, a venture capitalist, and an actively involved member of multiple accelerators. Hearing unfiltered advice from these individuals proved invaluable.
Time for another round
Since this session of Spring 2018, Startup Boost has had many other cohorts across various locations. Originally known as Startup Next (part of Techstars), the program prepares startups for accelerators and seed investors.
It is a passion project for all of those involved: program attendees, program managers, city directors, and mentors — the people make it happen. Thanks to everyone who helped out!
Skills I learned as a startup accelerator associate:
- Screening companies – researching business models, filtering companies by characteristics such as stage and technology, speaking with founders
- Program management – tracking the status of each company in the cohort over the program
- Content management – taking notes during each session and storing them for future reference