Molly Cain, in an article “3 Fatal Mistakes Startups Make in An Accelerator” for Medium, asks the question if your startup really benefits from an accelerator. Then she goes even further and introduces the idea that perhaps there are some instances when joining forces with an accelerator is equal to signing the death certificate for your startup.
Having written for top execs leading Fortune 500 companies, Cain gained experience that resulted with her writing a column with Forbes, the Huffington Post, CEO.com, and the Chicago Tribune, among other major global publications.
Cain then left the corporate world for the startup world; moving on to Tech Wildcatters, the iconic Dallas-based startup accelerator. Cain flourished, helping to grow the program and redeveloping it. She introduced the Gauntlet, a merit-based accelerator funding program that turned the traditional model that Tech Wildcatters had developed upside down. Cain then left Tech Wildcatters for Sumo Ventures, the Alexander Muse-led VC firm meant to create new opportunity for early stage startups.
The number of accelerators that exist today are vast. Kauffman suggests that the number of accelerators grew by 50% year to year from 2008 to 2014, a huge explosion of options. When joining an accelerator, the leaders of the startup really need to be careful. Not only with which accelerator they choose, but they must also cultivate relationships with management in order to make the connections needed to find the right investors and backers who will help your startup grow. Finding a mentor, earning their respect, and then working their contacts is a great way to ensure your startup does not die before it raises any capital.
Accelerators are very emotional places, but are filled with people going through similar experiences. They are able to understand the feelings and struggle that goes into creating a startup. Cain points out that in this fraternity-esque, hand-holding ecosystem, there is also the opportunity for dirty laundry and drama to take over, derailing any hope of a successful accelerator experience.
Finally, Cain also points out that startups can die when it comes to overdoing their pitch, and not focusing on the actual work that must get done. Pitches are a short five or ten minute showcase that startups spend a considerable amount of time putting together to gain entry into an accelerator or other pitch competition. Pitching should be a chance to make connections, not the end all be all that many startups see them as. Cain acknowledges pitches are important, but pitching to a room full of people who can’t fund your startup is not beneficial towards raising capital and moving on.