How to score big points on your next 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?
- Reviewers use this question to understand your business’s context and check to see if you did your homework.
- Do your market research! Make sure you speak to the problem you’re solving and back it up with facts and insights.
2. Solution: How is your product or service addressing the problem?
- You know your solution intimately, but reviewers don’t. Take the time to describe your idea. If you designed a dinner plate that encourages children to eat more vegetables, then explain in detail why & how it gets kids to put more veggies in their mouth.
- Talk to (potential) customers! And talk to as many as possible. You want to know what a broad range of folks think about your solution and, more importantly, if they are willing to pay for your solution.
3. Sustainability: How will you make money to sustain your business?
- You don’t need a flawless business plan or revenue model — that’s what most programs are there to help with — but reviewers want to know you’ve put thought into possible paths to profitability. Sell your idea’s potential!
- Be cautious of what our Executive Director, Nadyli Nuñez, calls “founder solution romance.” You probably have an awesome product/service, but are you more in love with your solution than you are with launching, growing, and sustaining a profitable business?
4. Competition: How are others solving this problem?
- NEVER SAY YOU DON’T HAVE COMPETITION. We repeat: never say you don’t have competition. Your competition may be direct or indirect, but you absolutely have competitors.
- Be honest and self-aware. Reviewers know you have competition, so it’s your job to explain how your solution is designed, delivered, or branded differently.
5. Team: Who is propelling this forward?
- It’s ok to be a solo founder, but everyone needs a support system. Reviewers want to see if the team of mentors and advisors you’re surrounding yourself with has the industry knowledge to help your business succeed.
- Answering who’s on your team also allows the program to understand if their network of experts can fill any of your gaps.
Real Talk: Step Up Your Application Game
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.
Connect with us
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.