Your Ultimate Playbook for Applying to an Accelerator
So, you want to apply to an accelerator?
We’ve assembled a playbook to help answer your questions and prepare you for submitting, interviewing, and deciding on the program that best fits your needs.
While we’re known for our Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech Program, we understand that you’re probably looking at different accelerator programs that match your specific goals and needs. This guide is designed to help clarify the common questions for the application, interview, and decision stage and can work well for SportsTech or your program of choice.
Let’s dive in!
Submitting A Memorable Application
Do Your Research
We see thousands and thousands of applications every year. Without fail, the best ones to submit have done their research. We know because the work they’ve put into the application shines through in the depth of detail in the responses.
Applying to accelerators takes a lot of time; we understand that. But it’s easy to see when an answer has been copy-pasted from 28 other applications.
Example: What are you expecting to get out of the SportsTech Program?
The answers that stand out to our team align with our program’s offerings. As a sports tech program, we’re looking for startups and founders to build something focusing on technology that fits with one of our eight verticals.
Sometimes, we’ll select teams outside those investment areas, but the best-researched answers would tell us that you were thoughtful about how your company fits best into our program and curriculum.
Your application is a window into your world and work. It should tie all of the relevant information together tightly and concisely.
It’s a delicate balance between knowing when to get to the point on your application and when to go a bit deeper to tease out what makes you and your team stand out from the field. When filling out these applications, accelerators look for simple answers, and the challenge is converting knowledge of your business to educate the accelerator on what you do – simply and concisely.
Think Like A Storyteller
Every founder and startup has a story. Yet, storytelling remains a vastly underestimated and under-appreciated skill set.
The genesis of your idea and the challenges you’re trying to solve all form a narrative that creates an opportunity to make a massive first impression for an accelerator. Every great story has a hero thrust into a big challenge. You’re the hero working towards solving that; accelerators want to hear and learn from that story. But every story is not suited to every audience. A prospective customer will not care to hear about your quarterly growth and impressive margins (“How much are you making off of me?”), and a potential investor in your second meeting will want you to go deeper than just your 30-second elevator pitch.
Storytelling is an art rooted in communication. At SportsTech, we instill the importance of storytelling in our founders. Communicating your story is essential to building your brand and growing. Every founder knows about the elevator pitch – you have a few floors (and seconds) to explain what you do. This skill translates well to various audiences, whether you’re meeting someone new for the first time or talking to a room of investors. How you customize and adapt your messaging based on the audience is a differentiator to success in the long term here. Accelerators that help with storytelling are probably adept at helping you learn how to speak to different audiences.
The art of storytelling also helps connect the dots and unlock opportunities you didn’t know existed. The world seems vast, but your next customer, investor, employee, or partner is just a conversation away.
The better the story, the better your chances are of making an impression and landing an interview.
How to Interview Like A Champion
Inviting you to interview is a significant step forward in the accelerator process. If you’ve prepared for a job interview, you’ll notice similar opportunities you can employ to stand out in a crowded field.
- Research. There’s that word again! Research is a common thread for us, and you’ll want to study as much as possible by learning about the people you’ll talk with. Google the people that are part of the interview process, find news articles, and connect their backgrounds with your work. Doing this will help you speak in a way familiar to the interviewers and help you differentiate.
- Know your business. Nobody understands your business better than you. Come to the interview prepared to discuss your business, the challenges, and the complexities you are working to solve, and have examples to share.
- It’s OK not to know. We don’t expect you to know everything but have a few stories lined up that can illustrate how your business is solving big, audacious problems. As an accelerator, our job is to vet and find the experts and supply them with the resources to be successful. Knowing many layers of your business will help us get a better understanding and help determine if you’ll be a perfect fit for the program.
- KPIs. Familiarize yourself with key performance indicators – quantifiable and measurable metrics that evaluate and assess the performance of business activities. KPIs vary by business, but be sure to know what yours are. If you’re a consumer-facing company, you need to know how many users are currently on your platform.
- Know the state of your business. You should understand what the state of your business is at any given moment. Do you know what your financial state is? What’s your runway? Is everything OK? If you’re not sure, it could lead to questions about how you run your business.
Receiving An Invitation
You got the invite – you’ve been accepted into an accelerator program! While congratulations are in order, there are a few things you need to know before accepting the invite.
At this point, you’ll want to perform some reference checks by asking questions and chatting with alumni and people associated with the orbit of the program itself.
- Find alumni founders. From social media sites to message boards, you can find many details that speak to the reputation of an accelerator online. You can unlock the best insights from the founders who participated. Reach out to founders and ask them about their experiences. By having an idea of what you need and want from an accelerator, you can ask specific questions to founders who have experienced it first-hand:
- What were their goals?
- Were the goals achieved at the end of their accelerator experience?
- If goals were not met, how did they overcome them?
- Things often don’t go perfectly, so when an accelerator has a misstep, how do they handle things?
- When in doubt, seek another founder. If you discover a founder sharing a negative experience or even too rosy of one – don’t let that deter you. Find a second founder at another alumni company to talk with because the first may not have taken the time to ask questions and perform due diligence. Their missed expectations are not always the perfect distillation of an accelerator. Keeping that in mind, tailor your questions accordingly: What went wrong, and what could have been done differently?
Tip: We’re active on LinkedIn and constantly curating stories from our current startups and alumni. For any accelerator you’re interested in, find a list of alumni and current attendees, see what they’re posting on LinkedIn, and send them a message asking them to speak. Here is a list of some SportsTech alums with active profiles showing their experiences before, during, and after our program. You can click on the link to find their LinkedIn profile:
Brennon D’Souza (DIBZ – Class of 2021) – routinely shares insights into his travels and makes guest appearances on panels and webinars where he explores the world of ticketing and events.
Kris McCarthy (FanSaves – Class of 2023) – provides behind-the-scenes highlights of his experiences in SportsTech and showcases deals with sports teams.
Ashley Williams (RIZZARR – Class of 2023) – As a serial entrepreneur, international speaker, author, and host, Ashley loves creating content to guide people to their purpose.
- Perform mentor references. Mentor networks touch so many aspects of an accelerator, and talking to them opens the doors to a community who are in the constellation of the program and can speak to advantages. Many accelerators will direct you to these mentors, but doing this on your exhibits a founder’s drive and proactive self-starting. It also removes some bias from the program, which provides another layer to your decision-making process in finding a program that aligns with your most significant needs.
- Convince yourself the program is right for you. References are a big part of the validation process, but you also need to have the conviction that the program is the right one for you. At SportsTech, we will never fault a startup for declining our invite – you need to be fully bought in on the program and that their offering is going to solve your biggest problems
- Set expectations. When joining an accelerator, it’s important to maintain the best expectations for your startup. You’ve done the due diligence, asked the right questions, and interviewed people associated with the program. Many accelerator programs do different things, but if you’re looking for one focusing on fundraising, they may not focus much on helping talk to customers. Maintaining the right expectations may be the biggest key to success so that you won’t start feeling frustrated about what the program is not doing well.
Understanding Equity & Legal
Equity ranges are different across accelerator programs.
It was around 6% for $20,000 in the past, which has increased over the last few years. Figures around 6-7 percent seem like a hefty amount. Still, if the program is right for you, a solid accelerator should help significantly increase your startup’s valuation, depending on your stage.
Do the math – in the long-term evaluation of your company, 6% could be a wash. With success, that figure won’t make a huge difference, especially if you are successful during the accelerator. For example, if the accelerator boosts the valuation of your company by about 7.5%, the 7% you’re giving up becomes break-even.
For legal purposes, make sure you have good counsel lined up. Having a lawyer before you start the process will save you time and money later. Founders that choose to save money by not having a lawyer risk losing time by getting hung up on points that are not super important that a lawyer could quickly and easily walk you through. A lawyer can also help spell out every detail you’re signing up for. You need to know what you’re signing up for, and the legal resource can help immensely in that process.
Making The Leap
You’ve crossed your Ts and dotted your Is.
Deciding to leap to join an accelerator is no small feat. It’s a process, but if you take the time to research, seek consultation, and ask questions, you’ll be much closer to landing in the program that will take your startup to the next level.
Two traits will help you achieve success once you reach the accelerator.
Be coachable. In many programs, feedback flies fast and furious. Many founders come into a program with an idea of what it takes to succeed, but you must be willing to see several different opinions and thoughts. Now is not the time to be hard-headed or stubborn. The value in many programs is that you’ll see different points of view – which can provide a ton of value to your company. Many different voices with various experiences will guide you through things you haven’t seen – if you’re willing to take feedback, you’ll probably be on the road to having a positive experience.
Be Adaptable. You may come into an accelerator thinking about your client’s needs, but the conversation can quickly change based on needs. Every team has a different set of needs. Those needs can change when you’re in the program, and forging that adaptability is a trait that will serve your team well in the future when you face new challenges, emerging competitors, or dynamically changing customer needs. By quickly adapting in the face of challenges, a startup can reduce the risk of becoming irrelevant – and embracing this during a program will help get you there by focusing on the things that matter most, including being innovative.
No matter what accelerator you apply to, we wish you the best of luck.
If you’re building something that would enhance the world of sports, we encourage you to apply if any of these would impact your work:
- Access to an unrivaled program that matches top enterprise-ready sports tech startups with top sports partners.
- Custom curriculum that speeds your development and time to closing pilots and commercial deals with industry decision-makers.
- One-on-one support with top industry experts with unique expertise to help you navigate the sports business ecosystem to get deals done quickly.
- Meaningful connections from our network of tech companies and sports organizations.
- Access to over $1.7M in industry perks.
Here are some additional resources that can help:
- One-page overview
- Program FAQs
- Eight primary investment areas
- Startup portfolio
- Partners who mentor and support startups
Click on the link below to begin the application process.