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Before You Apply: Tips on choosing an accelerator for minority founders

As Launch DFW continues on our mission to inspire and empower startups in a big way this year, we’ll be introducing you to an eclectic mix of tech/biz voices, locally and beyond, that will share their thoughts, experiences and advice to help you navigate your journey.

Nicole Baez, minority, founder, accelerator, warby parker, app

Nicole Baez Sweat

I randomly connected with Nicole Baez Sweat in the Black Tech Women Slack channel as a very interesting convo on accelerators was taking place. Nicole is a San Francisco-based mom, visual designer, app founder and previously worked at Warby Parker. She now works in User Research and Analytics for SapientRazorfish.

She knows a thing or two about startups.

A fellow founder in the BWT Slack mentioned an accelerator that she was thinking about applying to and asked the community for suggestions on what they thought about the program. What happened next was a much needed chat on accelerators and how to pick the “right one”.

For new founders looking for support, funding and traction, accelerators have quickly become a trusted, go-to solution for entrepreneurs from all ethnic backgrounds. Why? Well, they often provide programs that guide and educate early stage companies as well as offer investment for a certain equity stake. But each founder’s experience and level of business acumen will vary based on who they are and where they come from. And it’s important for accelerators to be aware of the similarities and the differences that we all share.

I found Nicole’s candid insight on the topic really helpful and asked her to share her thoughts with our community. Read on…

BEFORE YOU CHOOSE

After my own experience with an accelerator focused on women of color, I decided to share a few hard truths that I learned from a place of gratitude. These are a few key themes every founder or program participant should ask as they complete their due diligence before joining an accelerator geared towards minority founders.

Always remember, this is your company, your business, not a sorority that feels good to join solely because it is lead by women or men of color or caters to this community.

As you ask these questions, trust your intuition, check in with your body language, tone and general behavior within yourself and the person you ask. Your gut does not lie, and I recall several times that I was given cues that I ignored.

If a program refuses to provide you with reasonable responses or becomes defensive at any point, this is certainly a red flag, and you can confidently walk away! Always remember, this is your company, your business, not a sorority that feels good to join solely because it is lead by women or men of color or caters to this community. Have patience, you will find the right community filled with supportive leaders of all backgrounds. Don’t rush this important next step as you pursue your dreams. Your equity, peace of mind and potential is at stake. Good luck!

A Track Record (aka a Credible Reputation)

Can this program provide you with the data that proves they can do what they say they can do? Whether you want to raise an angel round, enhance your network in the vertical your business is in, or they have the exact technical knowledge to help you scale, ask them for proof before committing to them and wasting your time, more importantly, your equity. If they cannot prove this with hard, cold data and facts, not just anecdotal stories and inspiration about #blackgirlmagic (for example), it’s not worth your time.

Money Trees

How deep is their financial bench, and far does this network reach? Who have they invested in, and how did the investment impact their company? More importantly, confirm the funding for the program in writing and the equity you may have to give up is worth their investment amount. How can they support you and introduce you to VCs or Angels to raise your round if they don’t have their funding solidified?

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credit: LinkedIn Sales Navigator

Previous Founders Can Save You

If their program is fantastic and has the potential to help you scale, they will have founders with glowing reviews from their recent experiences. Finding a founder this candid might take some legwork, but ensure the founders you speak with can also provide proof they were in the program.

Map Your Milestones

Ask for a program guide, timetable, or schedule. If they don’t have programming established and planned for the duration of your program in advance, they will add more stress and confusion to your life, not to mention distract you from the goals you are trying to achieve.

Blind Can’t Lead the Blind

Ensure the person leading the program (your day to day point of contact) has scaled a venture before or has worked at a modern day tech company. Starting a tech company in the 90s is not the same as starting the next Uber, this is crucial. There is nothing that replaces hands-on experience, and the leader of the program needs to be able to speak the language of the future.

Stay connected with Nicole here.

Obsessed with cities, startups & spicy food. Team 75201 CEO, LaunchDFW