6 tips for getting into a startup accelerator from the CEO of the one that helped launch ClassPass and Plated

  • Crises and economic downturns, like the current coronavirus pandemic, can be fortuitous times for founders to start new businesses. Airbnb, Drybar, and Beyond Meat all launched during the recession and have found massive success since. 
  • Many founders are turning to accelerator programs to find mentors, funding, and guidance on how to grow during the pandemic, said Techstars CEO and co-founder David Brown. 
  • Brown shared with Business Insider his 6 tips for impressing accelerator staff, highlighting your strengths, and what to avoid.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Crises and economic downturns, like the current coronavirus pandemic, can be fortuitous times for founders to start new businesses. During the last recession, behemoths such as Airbnb, Drybar, and Beyond Meat launched and have since found massive success. 

Despite past successes, scaling a business and securing investments during difficult circumstances isn't easy. That's prompted many founders to apply to accelerator programs to find mentors, funding, and guidance on how to grow, said David Brown, the co-founder and CEO of Techstars. 

Techstars launched in 2006 and has more than 40 accelerators throughout the world, including remote programs for founders who want to participate during the pandemic. Techstars' notable alumni include online pharmacy PillPack, fitness class startup ClassPass, and meal kit service Plated. 

However, getting into an accelerator isn't easy. Brown shared with Business Insider his six tips for impressing accelerator staff, highlighting your strengths, and what to avoid. 

1. Leverage your connections 

Look through your contacts to see if you know anyone who works at Techstars or an alumni of the accelerator program, Brown said. "Leverage those connections to get a warm introduction," he added. "It carries weight when someone says, 'I know this startup and they're incredible.'"

However, Brown advises against spamming people. In the past, he's received 50 emails from various individuals touting a startup and found the tactic aggressive. He suggests founders be strategic in their outreach and avoid bombarding campaigns. 

2. Warm up your cold calls 

Not everyone has a connection to Techstars and may need to reach out cold. Avoid crafting an impersonal mass email — Brown receives about five of those a day and deletes them, he said. If you don't know the person, make an effort to build a connection, he advised. 

Start by looking the person up to see if you two have any shared hobbies, sports interests, or another natural connection. For example, Brown's LinkedIn profile nods to his passion for skiing. Avoid making it contrived, Brown noted. If there's nothing there, work on integrating some personal details into your pitch instead. 

3. Show your authentic personality

Regardless of why you're communicating with accelerator staff or alumni, make sure you're being authentic, Brown said. For example, don't force humor if you're not comfortable cracking jokes. And don't be shy about highlighting a milestone your company achieved or prior professional experience that influenced your startup, Brown added. 

"Let your personality come through," he added. "Express yourself in a way that allows the other person to learn a little bit more about you." 

4. Highlight your strengths

Startups applying to accelerator programs should establish what their strengths are and emphasize those details, Brown said. For example, highlight the members on your team with impressive professional backgrounds that inform their work on the startup, Brown suggested. 

"Startups at the accelerator stages are not going to be really great at everything yet," he said. "Don't throw everything against the wall hoping it will stick." 

Forgo the urge to flood accelerator staff with accolades, especially if those materials aren't relevant to your company, Brown said. That puts the onus on the person to find your strengths instead of intelligently presenting what you'd like them to see, he added. Additionally, founders should avoid bombarding individuals with insignificant details, like irrelevant name-dropping. 

5. Craft your founder story 

Make sure your pitch to the accelerator program includes your founder story and why you created the company. Oftentimes, that can be more compelling than the product, Brown said. 

If you're unsure of how to present this information, start by focusing on why you started your company. Answer questions such as what problem were you aiming to solve, why was that a pain point for you, and why does your product matter to you, Brown advised. 

6. Don't get too technical 

Even if your product or service features state-of-the-art technology, make sure you're explaining it in a way accelerator staff can understand, Brown advised. Avoid the temptation to use over-the-top technical terms and instead "explain it in a way your mother could understand," Brown added. 

By starting things off simple, it allows investors to interpret what you're explaining and ask higher-level questions if they have the expertise. The worst thing you can do is lose an investor in jargon. 

 

Axel Springer, Insider Inc.’s parent company, is an investor in Airbnb.

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