10 Due Diligence Points When Selecting a Startup Accelerator

Last week Samir Kanji (First Republic Bank) published a blog with a list of the accelerators ranked by graduates who received more than $750,000 in funding.  Cromwell Shubarth of the San Jose Business Journal pointed out a change in the rankings for the Alchemist Accelerator.

Game Changers Silicon Valley had a chance to catch up with Ravi Belani and Danielle D’Agostaro from the Alchemist Accelerator a few weeks ago.  This interview, conducted for the Game Changers Silicon Valley show, as part 1 of a two part show.  Here is a 2 ½ minute segment from the interview with the Alchemist Accelerator.

Accelerators provide an Education in Entrepreneurship

Accelerators are very similar to educational institutions, and it is important to separate “the signal from the noise” to allow company to identify the best fit among the many accelerators.

The Alchemist Accelerator admits only companies that monetize from the enterprise and who have established technical teams.

A focus on the enterprise allows companies to identify customers and generate revenues from the enterprise which improves the viability of the startup.

The classic enterprise entrepreneur is the person with 10 years of experience, although there are very disruptive companies who have never worked in the enterprise space.

Valuable learning can be gained from the mentorship via coaches and experts, every companies has a CEO coach, a Sales Coach and Goal coach plus domain knowledge experts.

There are five venture capital investors and five corporate investors who provided the working capital of the Alchemist Accelerator.

Both segments of the Alchemist Accelerator can be viewed at the link for Game Changers North America

Take-away considerations for entrepreneurs:

Not all accelerators are created equal:

Founding teams should review and qualify accelerator program in your geographic area.  Most of this information can be taken from blogs and articles.  Some of the areas for a general assessment should be:

  1. List the terms of the accelerator program including program duration, working capital provided, common stock contribution to the accelerator, physical work space, frequency of meetings, and training sessions such as pitch training and business plan reviews.
  2. What is the reputation and value proposition of the accelerator?  Most accelerators have a mission statement, a primary value proposition and an operating plan ( number of classes per year, number of companies per class, and a list of participating investors at their demo day)
  3. Does the accelerator have domain expertise via mentors or coaches in the markets or the technology areas being addressed by the startup?
  4. Does the accelerator do an in-depth review and qualify companies applying to join the program?
  5. What is the level of investor interest, traction and engagement with companies during the program, ideally there should be engagement well before the demo day.


Once a startup company narrows the list of accelerator programs that would be a fit, the founders should conduct their own due diligence on the accelerator.  The following our list of starting points:

  1. Contact companies who completed the program, including both companies who received follow on funding and those who did not receive the follow up funding. Speaking with co-founders of companies who did not receive follow on fundingwill provide insights into the perceived reasons funding was not obtained as well as help verify the quality of the program.
  2. Review the alignment of the accelerator’s domain and mentor expertise to your company and the founder.
  3. Review and evaluate if the listed investors who invested in previous graduating companies are the appropriate type of investors for your company.
  4. Review the connection and relationship maintained by the accelerator with post graduate companies, can a company who has completed the program continue to draw upon the resources and advisors connected to the accelerator.  
  5. Review published videos from the demo-day presentations.  These publicly available sources provide insight into the type, status ( pre-revue, revenue) and quality of the companies in the various startup accelerators. Some accelerators have a webpage listing their demo day presentations, or do a quick search on YouTube for “accelerator_name demo day”.

Summary

The first decision is to determine if an accelerator will materially promote a startup company's progress both in development and execution of the business plan and engagement with potential investors. 

Choosing the wrong accelerator can result in a disappointing experience.  All accelerators will quote metrics on the average follow-on funding received as a result of the program.  However, the average funding percentages for companies in past programs represents only one data point. Conducting additional due diligence can significantly improve your chances for the right decision as well as a successful engagement and outcome.

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Jim ConnorExecutive Producer at Game Changers Silicon Valley; Angel Investor