How to score big points on your next application

Top Score: Your Application

Writing a strong accelerator/incubator application takes practice. Too often, founders with innovative solutions miss the mark and fail to communicate their products’ and teams’ potential. As we continue to accept applications for our Incubator through March 8, 2021, we brought together an all-star panel to pull back the curtain and demystify the application process (Watch the full conversation at the bottom of the page). You’ll see that there aren’t any cheat codes, but there are plenty of tips to help entrepreneurs like you step up your application game.

Typical Application Sections

Below, we’ve unpacked what you should consider when responding to the five common application sections.

1. Problem: What pain point/inconvenience are you addressing?

2. Solution: How is your product or service addressing the problem?

3. Sustainability: How will you make money to sustain your business?

4. Competition: How are others solving this problem?

5. Team: Who is propelling this forward?

Real Talk: Step Up Your Application Game

Our Real Talk Panel: Nadyli Nuñez, Lynsie Campbell, and Leah Simoncelli.

February’s Real Talk brought together a powerhouse panel with experience on both sides of the application process. Our experts included Nadyli Nuñez, Ascender Executive Director; Lynsie Campbell, Founder & Startup Advisor; and Leah Simoncelli, AlphaLab Gear & Hardware Cup Coordinator. Together they’ve reviewed thousands of applications and didn’t shy away from being upfront and honest. Keep on reading for key takeaways from our chat.

Determine the value add of the incubator/accelerator
Lynsie considers three things before submitting any application: “How much money are you getting and how much equity are you giving up . . . the mentor network . . . and, the companies that have come out of that accelerator to see if they’ve gone on to raise additional funding or the success.”

Programs also determine the value add they can provide
Leah explains, “It’s not that we’re choosing the ten best [companies]. We’re choosing the ten best that we can help — that we’re going to add value to from our particular program. So, if you are a great company but you’re not a really great fit for us, you probably won’t see an acceptance [letter], and that doesn’t mean you’re not a great company.”

Why this? Why now? Why you?
Lynsie says that only you can tell your story. “You know you’re doing this [starting a business] for a reason. You believe this is an itch that you need to scratch for some reason, and you need to tell that story. You need to explain why you are so driven to do this thing.”

The sum of the parts is what matters
Leah approaches every application she reviews through the lens of team, market, and product. “Generally, you’re going to be really strong in one or two of those areas, and it’s your job on the application to prove that to me . . . figure out what is your strong suit.”

Can someone not on your team understand your business?
Lynsie’s pitch passes the test when her mom understands. “I know I described my business well when my mom gets it.”

Learn how to Google
Nadyli puts it simply: Google is a verb. “You can tell when someone Googled something. I want to see that. I want to know that you actually did some research ahead of time . . . you need to figure out how to learn information and find information on your own. We can’t do all the work for you.”

Ask Questions, stay in touch, and don’t give up
Lynsie shared a conversation she recently had with the program director of Techstars’ New York Accelerator. “She told me a story about a company that applied in 2017 and didn’t get in. She said to them, ‘Stay in touch.’ She said, ‘I say it all the time; nobody does it.’ So, that’s one thing to keep in mind. You can stand out by just keeping in touch. She continued to talk to them [and] they would stop by her office hours. She accepted them into the program two years later, and they just raised a $10 million round. They didn’t give up.”

Do your best and don’t BS
Nadyli tells it like it is, “We know when you are BS-ing us. . . . We know you don’t have all the answers, and we rather you actually outright say, ‘We’re still trying to figure out what the right business model is. We are exploring these three options, and we would want to participate to figure that out.’”

Watch the full Real Talk below.

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Tips to Step Up Your Accelerator / Incubator Application Game was originally published in Ascender on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.