Practical tips on how to get into a top start-up accelerator

The quality of the founder and the strengths of the team can be just as
important as a good business model when pitching to a start-up accelerator, claims Ragnar Sass

With competition in the job market increasingly tough, many individuals are looking to transition their idea into a business. However, with 80 per cent of start-ups failing in the first five years, gaining access to the necessary guidance and capital is more important than ever.

One way of doing this is by applying to a business accelerator, a scheme where startups can apply and, if accepted, receive equity investments and advice in return.

Each year, thousands of new startups try to get into different accelerators. The most famous accelerators – Techstars, Y Combinator, Angelpad and 500 Startups – usually get around 2,000 applicants for around 10 to 60 places, making the application process even harder than getting into Yale, Stanford, Harvard or any other high-end university in the world. This article presents some practical tips on how to stand out and elevate your chances of success.

The ultimate goal of all top accelerators is to boost up your company so that you can raise capital in a healthy environment. From the first day of the programme, pitching your concept is a crucial part of presenting the company and the idea to possible investors. The accelerators will ask each candidate the same question – are they ready for funding after the demo day? And if so, how can the accelerator help with this process?

All successful companies are started by a talented team of individuals. The staff baseline is often a key determinant in success. Start-ups are usually created by a team of two or three people. Sometimes incubators will accept single founder teams, but they almost never accept more than four founders per team. Investors tend to believe that the more founders you have the less confident you are in your model – plus, you will also have a loss of equity.

The only way to show how successful your team can be is to show the accelerator the experience and skills that your team possesses. Magic words such as Google, Facebook, Skype, Harvard and Stanford can help as well. An even better way of catching their attention would be a statement – “I hacked my first site when I was eleven years old”. If you are running an IT start-up, one of your co-founders needs to be an engineer. One non-technical founder is fine, but two will reduce your chances and three will suggest that you do not understand what a startup is concerned with. The main question accelerators want to ask is how will possible investors rate your team – can they deliver on what they are pitching?

Investors also care about the length of relationship between co-founders. If there is chemistry between teammates, you can often see sparks and excitement in the room. If you have worked together for many years, the risk for the founders to break up is a lot smaller. This is particularly important given that disagreements between co-founders is usually one of the most common reasons why many start-ups fail to raise capital after graduating from the programmes.

There is no denying that applying to a business accelerator is an incredibly competitive process. But in order to put your startup in with a good chance of being selected, a well thought-out business plan is not enough. Strong relationships across the team will encourage investors that you have what it takes to stay motivated through difficult times. Enthusiastic founders are more likely to catch the attention of investors and make themselves stand out from other start-ups.

Ragnar Sass is serial start-up entrepreneur from Estonia.

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
VIDEO
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
musicBest exclusives coming to an independent record shop near you this Record Store Day
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: KS1 KS2 Crewe Teacher Perm Ch...

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education is the lea...

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: KS1 KS2 Teaching Cheshire

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Long term position in large p...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit