I have been thinking a lot about accelerators and incubators recently. The rapid rise of these startup ecosystem players has been interesting to watch. I remember the run up of incubators during the web1.0 craze as everybody sought to offered shared space, services and Aeron chairs in hopes of creating the next IdeaLab. All but the original failed.
Accelerators todays are the storefront that startup communities put out to signal they are in the market for disruptive innovation. But too many are mistaking the finger pointing to the moon for the moon itself (last night’s super moon still on my mind obviously). Accelerators are, as the name implies, taking what is already there and making it faster. They are the pedal, not the engine. Below are some thoughts from my readings and recent discussions on startup accelerators. As always, the IMHO disclaimer applies and your comments are welcome.
Build on what you have
In order to ensure an accelerator is not an event, but rather a sustainable catalyst, accelerators need to be authentic to the communities they serve. Startups only get 10-12 weeks of support. If after that all the mentors, service providers and fellow ‘treps scatter or close their doors so will the startups. An accelerator should focus and rally the resources startups need but not “import” them. If you don’t have them in your community already maybe that is where your energies should go.
Accelerators need a superpower
The basics don’t count for accelerators. Most quality startups can get access to the space, lean methodology expertise and even cash they need. What accelerators need is to figure out what their uniqueness is. When we started the Delaware startup ecosystem we turned our “weakness” of small state into our “superpower” easy access. Size matters took on a new meaning and they are seeing startups that value small choose them as a place to launch. You won’t win on your accelerator’s brand or platform, Techstars/YC/500 Startups have that cornered. pick something else. Protip: If you don’t know what it is ask someone who just got there. A transplant or other outsider frequently sees things you don’t.
Turn some people off
Dave McClure used to do a talk where he suggested that you want customers to either want to f&@k you or want to kill you. The middle ground has little value. They aren’t passionate. I know it is safe to have the proof of an existing model in another city but too many accelerators seem to be city agnostic. Accelerators are competing too and if you don’t have startups that look at your program and say “not for me” you won’t have passionate ones that say “that is perfect for me.” Startups are not cookies and accelerators can’t be cookie cutters.
As EIR for the Idea Village accelerator this season I am excited to try and put these and other learnings into practice. One thing I am sure of is that our program, like the city that birthed it, will be full of rhythms, rituals and great relationships.
Stay calm and ‘trep on.