Business accelerator programmes have become increasingly popular over the last decade. Governments are looking to support new businesses and private companies, often involving angel or VC investors, in the hope of finding early-stage opportunities they can help grow, and subsequently invest in when the time is right.
So if you are launching a new venture, is it worth joining a business accelerator? To help you understand more about how they work, we asked Ben Jones of AberInnovation to explain what an accelerator could do for your business.
What exactly is a business accelerator?
An accelerator programme is usually one that gives developing companies access to advice, training, mentorship, investors and other support that will help them become stable, self-sufficient businesses. An accelerator programme can help from the very earliest ‘lightbulb’ stage of a business, through to those who need help scaling up or attracting investment.
So, that’s the theory – but do accelerator programmes really help? Some are free, but some can be quite expensive to join, so what are the benefits?
Here are the five biggest benefits of joining the right accelerator programme for your business:
1. Validate your idea
Everyone with an ostensibly good idea thinks that theirs has heaps of potential and will plug an as-yet unfilled gap in the market, leading to untold riches and recognition. But of course, not every bright idea can be a success. In reality, most ideas for new products and services barely get off the ground.
Being selected to take part in the right accelerator programme gives you a chance to really validate your idea and test your hypotheses. Is there a market for your product? Do the financials stack up? Do the costs involved in the development and/or manufacture make it a viable proposition? Is it investable?
When we’ve had an idea for a while, it’s only natural to become emotionally invested in it. The mentorship and expertise found on an accelerator programme will help you to make a clear-headed and dispassionate evaluation of whether your idea has legs.
Furthermore, a good programme will help you make the adjustments and course-corrections that may be required – saving you from wasting months, if not years, barking up the wrong tree.
2. Comprehensive support
Many budding entrepreneurs who end up on accelerators don’t come from business backgrounds and soon learn that launching and growing a new business can be a daunting endeavour.
Accelerator programmes will address participants’ knowledge gaps (not to mention offering plenty of reassurance and emotional support!) by providing mentors, success stories and subject experts to support you and equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to get your idea off the ground.
The valuable experience and hard-won advice shared by successful entrepreneurs can be lightning in a bottle for fledgling founders. Many programmes, such as BioAccelerate 2020, set aside time in their schedules to invite founders and directors in relevant fields to offer their wisdom and to share their journeys with the cohort.
3. Learn what investors want
Unless you’re fortunate enough to be in line to inherit the family fortune, you’re probably going to need investment at some stage to grow your company and to bring your product or service to market.
Accelerator programmes invariably end with some sort of pitch or demo day, where you’ll demonstrate the progress you’ve made over the course of the programme to a panel of industry experts and potential investors. Learning how to present to these types of audiences will be vital in securing funding at the various stages of your startup’s journey.
4. Cutting-edge facilities
Though we are witnessing a proliferation of business accelerators at the moment, not all programmes are alike. There are, of course, overlaps and similarities: most programmes will teach participants about core topics such as finances, intellectual properly, branding, product development and so on. However, some programmes go further.
Sector-specific programmes, and ones that are aligned to universities or innovation parks, can often also provide access to cutting-edge facilities and equipment, not to mention the pre-eminent expertise that you would expect to find at an academic institution.
For example, the BioAccelerate programme offered at AberInnovation gives startups in the biotechnology, agri-tech and food and drink sectors access to their brand-new £40.5m campus, which includes a state-of-the-art biorefinery and a Future Food Centre.
5. Meet like-minded innovators
Developing a new product or service can be lonely. By definition, there often won’t be many others – if any – doing the same thing. To keep up your morale and motivation levels, it’s important to find a welcoming and supportive group of peers who are on similar journeys.
It is therefore imperative to find the right programme that has rigorous and robust selection criteria to ensure a cohort of inspiring and ambitious entrepreneurs. There are bound to be dark days and moments of doubt as you iterate and develop your proposition over the course of an accelerator programme. A supportive group to bounce ideas off and provide feedback will help you navigate these more challenging times.
In an increasingly interdisciplinary world where problems often require a multitude of solutions, these bonds may even lead to fruitful opportunities in the future.
Finding the right accelerator programme for your business can make all the difference, so it is worth looking around at the programmes on offer. Do your research, ensure it will deliver what you need for your business and check that the programme caters to your sector.
Finally, launching a new business takes a lot of time and dedication. If you do decide to join an accelerator programme, then you’ll need to be willing to put in the time and the commitment required in order to get the most out of it.
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Ben Jones of AberInnovation. Aberystwyth Innovation and Enterprise Campus (AberInnovation) provides world-leading facilities and expertise within the biotechnology, agri-tech, and food and drink sectors. Set in stunning scenery between the Cambrian Mountains and the Irish Sea, the £40.5m Campus offers an ideal environment for business and academic collaboration to flourish.
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