What makes a good accelerator?
Who knew that bean bags, bowling…and Spotify playlists could help a startup succeed? Yeah, this may sound ridiculous – but having now worked with almost 50 startups over the past two years, I’ve realized some surprising factors behind running a successful accelerator, and not least that the community is one of the most powerful elements of the programme.
The community is one of the most powerful elements of the programme
Relationships are everything
If the entrepreneurs have close relationships, then they’ll spend more time together, learn from each other and support their fellow entrepreneurs through the tough times.
Those relationships are formed best when you leave space for messing around and having a good time – and this starts from the culture you maintain in every part of the entrepreneurs’ experience, from the furniture you install and events you organize, to the jokes and music playlists you share.
These things count: it’s likely that the cohort will spend a significant proportion of their week based at the accelerator, and so you may as well make it the place they want to spend their time. And it makes work more fun for everyone, too!
Diversity is not a tick-box
Who is in the group is important, too – and the more diversity, the wider the range of influences that each entrepreneur can draw upon. That means diversity of all kinds: the backgrounds and skills of the individuals; the variety in their products and sector focuses; the gender balance across cofounding teams.
Too many accelerators are made up of middle class males working on tech products. At King’s20, we think diversity and inclusion is not a box to tick – in can be the catalyst behind some of the most important learning experiences on the programme.
Diversity and inclusion is not a box to tick – in can be the catalyst behind some of the most important learning experiences
Experts your can trust
The right expert advisors can also play a massive role. At this early stage, entrepreneurs have to figure out many different challenges – building a product, reaching customers, designing a brand, valuing a company, or developing the personal resilience to deal with each step - knowing you can turn to a group of trusted experts who have been there, done it, can help you navigate each challenge with greater confidence and skill, and often aided by the personal networks that those mentors can offer. A great mentor is not just experienced and well-connected. They also help entrepreneurs to discover the answers themselves – by asking intelligent questions rather than giving solutions or opinions, and by giving them responsibility rather than wrapping in cotton wool.
Out into the world
Lastly, effective accelerators fundamentally reinvent traditional learning environments. This is not about sitting listening to talks; it’s about learning through action, through going out into the world: constantly improving your understanding of customers’ needs; testing ideas and getting feedback; running experiments to test effective ways to acquire more customers; throwing yourself into that sales meeting or investor pitch you’re afraid of.
Action-based learning is intense; it can make you feel vulnerable and afraid. But with the right support of the mentors and community around you, it can help radically increase the speed of development of your startup.