Does your startup have what it takes to get into a top accelerator?

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HXLR8R Benjamin Joffe at the Accelerators Summit

Applying for a MENA accelerator or a global one can turn out to be a time-consuming process, so it’s important to make sure your startup has what it takes to be accepted before you begin. Generally if your startup is not admitted, it either means that you still have more work to do, or that your startup is simply not going to work, which makes this exercise all the more important.

To know if your startup will get in, you need to know what the accelerators are looking for. As Yunus Social Business’s Leila Charfi recently reminded us, rule number one to get funding is to speak the same language as your potential investors. This is also true for accelerators.

Good news: we recently attended the Accelerator Summit organized in Paris by Numa (the association behind France’s most famous accelerator Le Camping). We had the chance to go behind the scenes and listen to accelerator managers chatting about their expectations when it comes to startups. Benjamin Joffe’s thoughts, as General Partner in HAXLR8R, the Shenzhen-based hardware accelerator that has graduated Roadie Tuner among many others, was representative of the general impressions. 

The must-haves

An accelerator program can only do so much; there are certain qualities that a startup needs to have to succeed that an accelerator can’t give it.

First, a startup needs to have the basics of product skills. If your team doesn’t have the mechanical, electronics, software, or design skills that your product or service requires, there’s little chance that you will make a working product, says Joffe. Ideally, you should already have a product or a service that works before even thinking of applying to an accelerator. 

Accelerators, he stresses, are to help you figure out the DOs and DON’Ts of an innovative entrepreneur’s journey faster, not to teach how to build your product.

Second, a startup needs a great team that will be able to find solutions to its problems (i.e. is resourceful), and that will keep the distance without ever giving up (i.e. that is optimistic and persistent).

Having those is a must, but they’re not the only qualities accelerators look for.

The fixables

The team at HXLR8R pays attention to a bunch of other qualities, which, while not crucial to a startup’s success, are nice to have, and will make a difference. These the accelerator believes it can help create.

First, your product needs to have a good positioning. Joffe explains that his team can help the startup find the problem they’re facing, but it’s (obviously) better if they’ve already figured it out.

There also needs to be a demand for your product. Will people buy it? Is your product different enough? Are people going to come back to it (this is called ‘stickiness’)? An accelerator’s team wants to see some proof of demand; they want to see that you understand your customer.

If both criteria check out, next is distribution. Do you understand how your market works? Do you know how you will price it, and sell it? Those are not to be neglected, Joffe reminds us.

Also, your startup is not just your first product or service, you need to have a vision to go beyond that. Make sure you’ve planned beyond your initial launch as early as possible.

Finally, a startup needs to have an idea of its valuation.

The hardware-specific criteria

HXLR8R has also added some hardware-focused DON’Ts to their checklist. They tend to ignore cool or niche products that don’t have immediate mass demand; a startup can’t afford for the mass market to pick up, they need revenue from the start. They also tend to ignore products that are so easy to design that people can reverse-engineer them. 

Have a look at your startup and check how many boxes your startup can tick. For the boxes you haven’t ticked, is this something you can fix? If not, you should probably rethink your startup; if it is then get to work!

Credit Photo: NUMA

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