8 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Accelerator Experience
It’s been about a year since SOS was invited to be a part of the ATBx Accelerator Program. SOS was part of Cohort 1, and we were then invited to be the ATBx Business in Residence for Cohort 2. We wrapped up our first go at an accelerator by discussing our experience on a panel at the ATB Entrepreneur Centre. These are the main points we touched on - and we would like to share them with you.
1. Invest the Time
Choose early on to make your accelerator a full time job. This can be difficult as operating a start up already eats up a massive amount of time. However, just as you know a few years of sacrifice nurturing said startup will yield major results in the end, so to will a commitment to the accelerator you join. Three, six, or eight months invested in this opportunity will do just what the name implies - accelerate your growth. I suggest mentally preparing - farm out anything you can afford to, ask friends and family for help and/or understanding and/or frozen lasagna, and cut out any and all distractions.
You know how they say being an entrepreneur is a marathon, not a sprint? They are wrong. It’s interval training for overall conditioning and you just picked up the pace.
2. Network, or as we like to call it: Connect
Do your best to put any social anxieties aside and make the most of these opportunities. A little "internet stalking" of other guests goes a long way to preparing for fruitful conversations. View connecting sessions as a field of collective wisdom, and you have three hours to harvest. Prepare smart questions and mentally note who you would most like to speak with. Remember that you are fully invested in this opportunity so spending time with people you already know, will not net you any results (this goes for any type of networking in general). Tempting as it may be for the shy.
Start with an honest assessment of yourself, your business, and your leadership team. Dedicate some preparation time to identifying any holes that need filling, and any problems that need solving. It can be tough to stop steamrolling ahead for a moment to look in the mirror. You might see something you would rather ignore. Remember - you are getting access to resources you’ve never had before. You aren’t going to need them all. It’s beneficial early on to realize that your well-rounded team of two marketing individuals and one engineer isn’t all that well rounded after all. When it’s time to build out your advisory board, choose a mentor, pick an education stream, etc. you won’t just stay inside your comfort zone. It’ll be much easier to go for the accountant/strategist/connector you really need.
4. Have a Clear Objective
Time, and your energy, are at a premium. Pick an objective and stay focused. Simple, but not always obvious. Accelerators can be like Disneyland for Entrepreneurs. It can be easy to get distracted, with so many things to see and do, and so much coming at you. Remind yourself regularly that you are here for Splash Mountain, and that will help guide your efforts.
5. Prep for Your Mentor
Yes, more preparation. I wish we had prepared for our first mentor the way we had with our second. There are many kinds of mentors out there; some that will focus more on developing you, others that will focus more on developing the business. Know what you need so the both of you can get down to brass tacks, and in the end, feel that it was a valuable experience.
6. Trust Your Gut
Here come the advice and opinions. From every angle. You’ll notice right away that some of the advice is conflicting. Don’t let this stop you from being open to it and listening. Just know that at the end of the day, this is your baby and you are the parent. While it’s imperative that you listen to and digest all the information coming your way - it is not required that you implement it.
7. Be Willing to Pivot
Be open to the reality that the business you started with may look drastically different by the end of the cohort. And that’s ok.
8. Make Friends
That other entrepreneur who is also crashing at the accelerator space has a lot to teach you. And you have a lot to teach them. Open up, have drinks, and swap battle stories. No one knows what you are going through better than another entrepreneur.
To wrap things up, if there's one thing that you want to make sure you walk away with from an accelerator, it is connections. The connections that you make with everyone that you come across during your three months are what you are guaranteed to remember. Hold onto these, especially the ones that had that extra spark - when you or they make it big, it's always important to remember where it all came from.
Are you thinking about joining an accelerator program, or have you been a part of one and have other tips to share? Let us know in the comments below.