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Tips on getting a startup into acceleration program
28 April 2021·8 min read

Cristobal Alonso

Global CEO, Startup Wise Guys

Best Tips To Help Your Startup Get Into A Dreamed Acceleration Program

There comes a time in a startup founder's journey when you need to move beyond FFF aka “Friends, family and fools” circle, be it for business advice or money. If the startup is still in the early days – the accelerator usually is the first stop to look for funding and more brainpower. This should also be the time founders are asking, if the accelerator is the right way to go, which accelerator should they apply to and how to get to the one that they have found the most appealing for the business development. Coming from one of Europe’s oldest and largest accelerators, we wanted to share some thoughts and guidance on this process.

First things first, check with yourself and the team, where are you at with your business and what kind of support you actually need. Not everyone needs an accelerator - if you are an experienced founder just looking for that extra money to scale and grow, then probably angel investors or VC funds are the right way to go. If you are a “know-it-all” kind of person that is not ready to listen and get suggestions or any advice from others, again – probably the accelerator is not for you, as by definition it requires change and taking in a lot of feedback.

However, if you lack previous business experience, don’t have an MBA or you already have experience, but with this particular company feel lost in terms of business direction, product-market fit, company growth strategy or other similar things, then an accelerator is definitely a spot on and recommended option for you. While there are lots of equity-free accelerators out there, we are going to refer to the ones that provide not only support but also an investment.

Now let’s assume, you find yourself as a good fit for some accelerator. Below we have listed some tips on how to both – find the best accelerator for you and get noticed in the selection process.

Find the accelerator that is the best fit for your startup

Yes, you might be tempted in applying to anything that promises funding for your startup and provides mentoring, but in reality, any decent accelerator selection process takes time. Of course, you would participate in more than one call or meeting, fill a few tests or questionnaires and - in our case – even participate in a 3 day Bootcamp, if getting into the finals. However, if you are simultaneously participating in many accelerator selection processes, you might have no time left to run your business, also – you might leave an impression of not being dedicated to the process and thus the particular accelerator. So – do your homework and find those accelerators that really fit your stage, situation, work style and can help solve the challenges you might be facing now or in near future. And then – focus!

Accelerating at home or abroad is your choice

Given that many accelerators have moved fully online or organizing hybrid programs, this might not be such a relevant point nowadays. However, in case the accelerator program entails a move to another country, be realistic with your team and family if that is a doable thing. It might seem impossible with kids or other local obligations, however, our experience shows that accelerating abroad is way more effective, as you get dedicated time to really focus on the business and get immersed in the accelerator process without any distractions. And geography aside, while accelerators happen mostly online – the World is your oyster, as long as you can make the time zones work for you.

Dedicate proper time for filling the application form

Accelerators have very different approaches to application forms – some of them just ask you for an email to follow-up, some ask 20+ questions and require you to be more specific. We are on the lengthy aka more serious side and are asking startups quite a lot of questions before scheduling any calls and moving a startup further in the funnel. Yes, we have heard it is old-school and un-cool, but there are very good reasons to still stick with a lengthy application form. Firstly, due to receiving very high programs’ application volume, it is easier to select startups for deeper due diligence after already getting the first glimpse about their business and approach. Secondly, it shows attitude – if a startup cannot bother to fill our form, they are less likely to be also willing to “survive” a 3-month intense acceleration program. Thirdly, the form mostly consists of questions good entrepreneurs should have answers for or at least should be looking for them by questioning themselves. In a way, we see the form as a perfect exercise for any early-stage startup to figure out the blind spots and prepare for any conversation with an accelerator or investor in the future.

Check if there are any relationship warm-up opportunities

We are sure that you care about getting into your dream accelerator and wondering how to get noticed. There are various ways for “warming up” the relationship with experts, mentors or investors that are a part of this accelerator, especially at events (nowadays mostly online) or additional programs. A simple way is to keep an eye on the accelerator’s website or social media, for mentoring 1:1, competitions or other opportunities to have some face time with mentors or C-level people. There are also more time-consuming and serious programs worth your attention like YC Startup School and online pre-accelerators. Mostly these programs are equity-free with no strings attached, but they will significantly increase your probability of getting into the accelerator’s full-time investment-driven programs while also acquiring some startup business basics. In the case of Startup Wise Guys, in the last selection finals 30% of the teams came from our pre-accelerator program, proving that it is a smart route for founders to cut through the application volumes and get noticed by the Selection Committee.  

“Build your business for customers, not investors.”

This is a slogan we use a lot in our day-to-day work with startups at our accelerator and we feel deeply for it. If you are doing your best to solve your customers’ problems instead of chasing an investment round or showing off how cool a startup lifestyle is on social media, you should be on a very good trajectory to catch the eye of a knowledgeable accelerator or investor.

Nothing can beat traction in the application process, that is your strongest card. But basically ‘building business for customers', in practice for us, would mean that you have done all the possible research about your customers and market competitors, you have an idea of how you want to grow and expand your company and that you are at the stage of polishing your value proposition. Even if you don’t have all the answers, for an accelerator selection committee it is important to see that you are not sitting and waiting for them to magically land on your plate, but that you are doing your part of this journey and trying to validate your hypothesis as much as possible.

Be a decent person.

Seems obvious but we have to remind you of that, as attitude and work ethics matter. We, as an accelerator, put our heart into what we do and expect the same in return. Coachability is another aspect accelerator selection committees mostly look at - during an acceleration program, both your thoughts and shape of your business will be challenged on basically every step and you are expected to interact for a rather long time with the team and mentors - if you are not willing to listen, you should not be going to an accelerator in the first place.


All in all, right now is an amazing time to be getting accelerator support and funding. Firstly, because there are literally no borders, the only limitation is time zones and your internet connection, which doesn’t sound like a huge obstacle. Secondly, at least in the Baltics and Central Eastern Europe, there’s quite a surplus of early-stage funding also via accelerator funds, so the probability to nail investment (if you have a dedicated team and traction to show) is high. Make sure to ask the right questions to yourself and your team, do thorough research and be focused on the application process. But above it all – remember to be building your business for your customers and higher purpose.


Related Posts:

How To Spot The Best Startup Accelerator (by Cristobal Alonso, Global CEO, Startup Wise Guys)

5 Tips On How To Kick Off Your Startup And Attract Investors (by Alex Serdiuk, CEO, Respeecher)

Best Startup Accelerators And Incubators In Lithuania (by Konrad Koncerewicz, VC Community Builder, Vestbee)

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