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Accelerator programmes are spitting out startups like they are finally cool but what exactly are they and what can they do for your SaaS idea or business?

 

What an accelerator programme is

Simply put, an accelerator programme is like going back to school for a few months. You hopefully won’t have your head flushed down the toilet but at the end of some days it honestly feels like that’s exactly what’s happened…

All programmes aim to grow your idea or existing business much quicker than you’d be able to without access to the resources on offer within a structured and supportive environment. When you graduate, you should have the network, skills, support and business plan in place to take you company to the next level.

Accelerators come in many shapes and sizes with some specialising in supporting teams with nothing more than an idea while others help at slightly later stage or focus on businesses that want to solve problems for a specific sector. Many will offer a small investment in return for equity when you join giving you the financial cushion required to focus your efforts.

What they should give you

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  • A chance to explore & validate a business idea – most people in the SaaS community would advocate a lean startup approach to building a business. It’s essential that you test whether your idea will work or if your business can grow in the way you think it will. An accelerator programme gives you the time, encouragement, network and mentor access to do this.
  • Mentoring / networking / support – one of the most valuable parts of an accelerator is the sheer amount of experts, doubters, challengers and hopefully encouraging folk you will meet.
    Programmes like Ignite operate a very strong mentoring programme where you get to play an evil version of speed-dating; meeting a new mentor every 15 minutes who will challenge your idea, business model and responses at every opportunity.

    At the end of a mentoring session you feel like you’ve been kicked about…a lot….yet having people from different background and experiences constantly challenging your ideas and assumptions is SaaS startup gold; you can work out product vision, dos & don’ts and where to focus efforts in a fraction of the time you would otherwise.

    The network you can build is phenomenal and other companies are often more open to talking when they know you are on a supported programme giving your startup a foot in the door with people and businesses you wouldn’t normally have access to.
  • An amazing experience – above all else, joining a programme can simply be a brilliant experience. Your confidence will grow, you’ll learn a lot of new skills and you’ll create friendships with other teams that are (or have been) in the same situation as you are.

 

What it certainly isn’t

Easy peasy lemon squeezy – Many people create start-ups as some weird form of middle class dole, but they take hard work, dedication and a lot of hours. If you want to build a SaaS company as a lifestyle business (nothing wrong with that!) then an accelerator programme probably isn’t for you.

A guaranteed route to success – Just because you are on a accelerator programme does not mean you will succeed. So many factors influence how your business will perform and an accelerator is simply a good start to a very long, arduous (but fun!) journey.

A promise of investment – There’s a real mixture of financial options available when you join an accelerator. Some make a small seed investment to see you through the duration of the programme while others, like TechStars, have a seed investment included. Most programmes will cover the topic of business funding and of course there are a myriad of ways to finance a SaaS startup.

If you are interested in taking an investment, at seed or a later stage, an accelerator will certainly help get you into good shape although raising funds is never guaranteed. Raising investment usually takes many months after ending a programme and while angel investors and venture capitalists will have strong links with many of the top accelerator programmes, investment decisions are made purely on what you have to offer.

What you get up to

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Having recently graduated from the Newcastle-based, Ignite accelerator programme with a SaaS company, I can honestly say it pushed us hard to validate our idea hard before building the foundations for the final product. We entered with a minimum viable product and came out with a much bigger vision than we had when we went in.

Most programmes involve elements of:

  • Mentoring
  • Networking
  • Investor & VC introductions (including investors at Series A)
  • Business advice
  • Access to alumni (folk who’ve graduated the programme you’re on)
  • General support

Is an accelerator for you?

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If you want to work hard, learn fast and have an idea or company that you’re serious about pushing hard then an accelerator programme could be perfect for you.

Many people think the world of startups is just for young blokes in their twenties but they really are open to all. In our Ignite cohort there were investors building products, folk fresh out of uni, a mixture of ages and plenty of people with kids (we even had a couple of babies born during the programme!). There’s a ton of options out there now and Google Campus even recently launched startup support for parents with babies.

 

How to choose your accelerator programme

Take time to have a critical look at your chosen programme. An accelerator that specialises in B2C mobile apps isn’t likely to know how to help a B2B SaaS business. Make sure you understand how much equity (if any) you will be giving away. If there is funding attached, understand the terms that are offered and walk (run) away if you smell a rat. Approach alumni teams for opinions and references.

 

How do I get on one?

Most accelerators have a standard application process; you submit your details and idea or company information which is then usually followed up by an interview or event where you pitch your business or idea. Top tips are:

  • Do your homework
  • Make the effort to meet with accelerator staffers (they are often on the road talking at events)
  • Ask your network for introductions
  • Use hustle!

There are a ton of great programmes based in the UK so think about what’s best for you, what you’d want to get out of a programme and go for it.

by Hannah Chaplin

Hannah Chaplin is co-founder of Receptive, the only dashboard built especially for SaaS product teams to collect, measure & understand feature requests. The team recently graduated from Ignite; the UK’s top pre-seed accelerator programme.

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