What every entrepreneur can learn from accelerator programs
Do you have an idea for a start-up business? Or a new idea for growth in your existing business? Wondering how to get started?
Whether you're in a high-tech or traditional sector, a few common tips can help you: Find mentors, move quickly and develop a winning pitch.
These tips come from the techniques used in business accelerator programs. They're an increasingly popular tool helping Canadian high-tech entrepreneurs turn promising business ideas into a money-making reality.
But their lessons aren't restricted to new technology start-ups. They can also point the way for established businesses in traditional sectors looking to benefit from a start-up mindset.
How does it work?
Here's how accelerator programs work. Imagine being able to brainstorm your big idea with 120 venture capital investors and business mentors from companies like Amazon and Facebook—all the while being immersed in an intensive 12-week program designed to help you shape your fledgling concepts into a viable business plan.
All of it capped off with a chance to get start-up funds and make a pitch to prospective customers and investors.
“We create opportunities for these entrepreneurs to meet tons of really influential people and build relationships that will serve them forever,” says Ian Jeffrey, General Manager of FounderFuel, a Montreal based accelerator that has helped a number of companies get venture capital financing.
Here are some lessons these programs can teach both budding start-ups and existing companies with an ambition to grow.
At accelerator programs, mentors—successful business people who want to give back—are critical for the success of entrepreneurs.
The lesson: Harness your networks to find mentors. They can be invaluable sounding boards. You should also consider creating an advisory board for your business.
Your search for a mentor could start at your local chamber of commerce, an industry group or even on professional social media platforms and discussion boards. For young entrepreneurs, Futurpreneur Canada offers a well-organized mentorship program.
Accelerator programs give entrepreneurs a short time to test their ideas and figure out if they're viable or not.
The lesson: Don't take too long to get your idea out of the office and in front of potential customers. This will give you a sense as to whether or not they'll pay for it—even if the idea is still embryonic. Instead of working on projects for a long time in isolation, ask yourself: What can I get out into the market in a month?
Practice your pitch
Accelerator programs give entrepreneurs numerous opportunities to hone their pitch. For many accelerators, this is building up to “demo day,” when they get a few minutes to pitch their project to an audience of hundreds of potential investors and clients from Canada and beyond.
The lesson: Practice your pitch before you head out to see potential investors, clients or the bank. Try it with colleagues, mentors and friends. Also, film yourself. The results may be painful to watch, but better to catch any flaws yourself than when an important investment or contract is at stake.
Don’t be afraid to fail
Another tip from FounderFuel's Jeffrey: Don't be afraid to fail. Mistakes may be your greatest teacher—if you learn from them.
“Most successful entrepreneurs will start three or four companies before they have a slam dunk.”