Advice for better startup accelerator selection panels

You can choose the best startups for your accelerator the hard way, the slow way, the angry way, the tired way …or the easier way! This is what works best for me after ten years in startup accelerators.

At disability, ageing and inclusion startup accelerator Remarkable, we’re about to begin the difficult process of thinning out the second round of applicants to invite to the bootcamp for our 2020 program, using a panel comprising a mix of accelerator team, alumni founders, partner representatives and mentors.

  • Startups applying to accelerators will usually be missing some of the necessary components of a viable, scalable business. And that’s ok; it’s expected. Accelerators actually exist to help fill in some of those gaps and find workarounds for the rest. Given none of your startups will have every element they need to succeed, focus on choosing those with missing elements that can be progressed within the timeframe, resources, capital and mentor constraints of our program. You may not be able to help someone if major regulatory hurdles or high capital requirements will limit their short term progress, for instance. And an accelerator that doesn’t help its startups doesn’t get many second chances.
  • Keep diversity in mind, both within each startup team and within the cohort itself. I shouldn’t really need to say this but I will: research conclusively shows that within a startup team, diversity can help improve performance and decision making. Within your accelerator cohort it helps the teams in your startups find peers and build support and collaboration relationships – you’ll find you get less groupthink, and less chance of an ‘insider group’ and an ‘outsider group’ forming. It varies but in my own experience, 25 – 50% of the acceleration value a program offers is provided by individuals in the cohort helping other startups.
  • Accelerators, like the venture capital stack, are about setting the right balance between opportunity and risk. You will never remove the risk no matter how hard you want to try. Most of what seems like merit at the application and interview stage of an accelerator is a mixture of conscious bias, unconscious bias, and fear of risk. Merit is something you can only be certain of in hindsight.
  • If you have a concern about a candidate startup, help the whole panel make the decision quickly by being clear about whether it’s a deal-breaker for you or a lesser concern. Remember your role is to understand whether concerns might be resolved with the work, time, advice and capital of your accelerator. It’s better to discuss workarounds, hacks and bandaids to address concerns than to argue over whether something is a deal-breaker or not.

I’m Alan Jones, an EiR for startup accelerators, GP at M8 Ventures. Previously investor, founder, and early Yahoo PM. Opinions mine (but should also be yours).

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