How to Find the Best Accelerator For You and Your Startup

Learn what an accelerator is, how they work and what questions to ask yourself when finding the best program to grow your company.

June 4, 2020

Google “how many accelerators are there” and you will find that the prominent answer is “around 7000”.

Gulp. That’s a lot.

It may feel overwhelming to navigate your accelerator research when you have “around 7000” to consider. We get it. And we’re here to help.

First Things First: What Exactly is an Accelerator?

As the name suggests, or rather, blatantly says, accelerators accelerate the growth of startups with a concept and business model in place. These programs build on existing companies’ foundations to catapult them forward by giving them access to mentorship, investors and other supports to ultimately make the startups successful and stable self-sufficient businesses.

Although the intention of every accelerator is pretty much the same, they all operate to achieve that goal a bit differently.

Some programs are 2-6 months, others are up to 2 years.

Some programs offer minimal mentorship, others have intense mentorship.  

Some programs are free, some cost money, and some take anywhere from 3-20% equity.

The Accelerator Centre is primarily funded by government backing and heavily-subsidized client fees. We don’t take any equity as our priority is enabling economic prosperity for the betterment of our community.

It may seem like a no brainer to opt for a free program, but many mentors and entrepreneurs will warn: consider the cost of not having robust support.

Finding Your Best Fit

Not all accelerators are created equal. When choosing the (most) perfect accelerator for you, we suggest asking yourself some questions:

  • Do the graduates inspire you?  
  • What do alumni and current clients have to say about their experience there?
  • Are you after mentorship? Do you want to learn from seasoned leaders in their respective fields or fellow founders?
  • Would a frat-house or office atmosphere make you more comfortable and productive?
  • Can you handle the time/work demands?
  • How much equity are you willing to give away?
  • Are you comfortable with the terms (e.g. are you locked in or can you leave if you would like)?
  • Do you want ongoing support once the program ends?

Consider Rankings

If you don’t have any connections to graduates or clients, it may feel tricky to get the inside scoop. Of course, like any organization looking to recruit, every accelerator will boast its successes and cover its website with impressive looking metrics.

Every accelerator seems great at first glance—so what is an entrepreneur to do?

Evidently, this is a problem that thousands of entrepreneurs have faced. UBI Global, a Switzerland-based international innovation intelligence agency, was established to help founders by identifying leading hubs. UBI’s World Benchmark Study is a great place to find the best accelerators in the world, based on quantitative research and findings.

The Accelerator Centre has been honoured to be ranked among the “World Top 5” the past two years. In the most recent ranking (November 2019), we were the only Canadian accelerator to place in our category, making us Canada’s #1 private business accelerator.

Every year, Israel-based StartupBlink releases the Startup Ecosystem Rankings Report, with over 1000 cities and 100 countries ranked. The most recent report illustrates that despite remaining in the “Big 4”, Canada has slipped from its #3 spot to #4, indicating that our top ecosystems have lost some momentum in 2020, with Toronto falling 9 spots to 24 and Vancouver dropping 12 spots to 37.

Does that mean that Canadian accelerators and startups in trouble?

Absolutely not. The report itself states that “Canada has massive potential” and ranks the northern nation as #3 in the world for COVID-19 innovation, illustrating that the Canadian ecosystem is resilient in the face of a crisis.

But the slight decline should serve as a warning for entrepreneurs to choose where they invest their time and money wisely. The main issue, according to the Startup Ecosystem Rankings Report, is Canada’s ability to create unicorns (unicorn= a privately held startup company valued at over 1billion dollars).

However, since the report was published, Canada’s newest unicorn has been named: ApplyBoard.  

An alum of both the Accelerator Centre’s AC JumpStart and Startup Visa Program, ApplyBoard co-founder and CEO Martin Basiri told StartUp HERE Toronto that:

“We were able to get Canadian permanent residency status in six months and the critical funding to get us started. It would have been impossible to build ApplyBoard without the support of the Accelerator Centre to obtain permanent residency.”  

Remember the question: Do the graduates inspire you? If Canada’s largest challenge is creating unicorns, this should be carefully considered. Graduate valuation, funds raised, jobs created and survival rate are all good places to start.

These are our numbers.

Checking out the communities that accelerators are based in is a good idea, too.

Is your prospective accelerator located where you’d like to base or grow your business? If not, does it have connections to that area?

For example, 90% of AC grads have remained in Waterloo Region, and for good reason. The fastest growing tech talent market in North America and the fastest growing community in Canada, Waterloo is a global hotspot for tech talent and is home to more than 150 leading research centres. Bonus: the region offers significant cost advantages compared to other North American cities.

The People Behind the Numbers shares the story of Efram Weiss, the CEO of YouGift, a social media platform for gift giving. In 2012, the founder relocated his startup team from New York City to upstate New York to join a three-month accelerator program. He received $18,000 in funding in exchange for a 6% equity stake.

“Sadly, the experience turned into a decelerator,” the article says. Ultimately, Efram shut down his business a few months later. He believes YouGift might have survived if he had chosen his program more wisely.  

Finding the best accelerator for your startup isn’t easy. But if you choose well, you will be rewarded with creditability, invaluable tailored business advice, a supportive network of peers, great connections, introductions to investors, and a feeling of overall connectedness with your fellow founders.

Our entrepreneurs agree.

“I’ve been a part of many accelerators and I can tell you, none of them are like the AC,” says Radwan Al-Nachawati, co-founder and CEO of LinkMentalHealth.  “Having specialized mentors in so many business areas is amazing; startups by nature are limited in their ability to find business experts, making the AC’s mentorship model wildly important to us. I think we’ve made a lot of progress in this past year, and it’s largely due to the support that the AC has given us.”

Julie MacDonell, co-founder and CEO of Trademark DIY, shares that “The AC has been the most supportive accelerator experience we’ve had. From day one, my needs as a female founder were considered and accommodated. No questions asked, just a total understanding. The $30,000 in seed funding from AC JumpStart is the first funding we’ve received.”

In Draft Canada’s recent article on current AC client Emmetros, creators of MemorySparx, founder and CEO Mary Pat Hinton said:

“One of the things my team and I are known for is that everything we do is evidence-based, and although it takes a bit more time on the front end, we research the heck out of everything before we make a decision. It was no different with the AC. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. The mentorship is like having an instant and consistent C-suite at my side.”

Startups That are Built to Scale

If you’ve asked yourself the big questions and think that the Accelerator Centre could be the accelerator for you—awesome.

If you consider yourself to be a coachable and committed entrepreneur, we encourage you to apply.

Not quite there yet? You might be a great fit for Phase One of The Accelerator Program, our market validation phase where you we help you define your market by gathering data to explore, research and refine your concept.

Regardless of your journey, we’re here to help get you where you’re going, faster. Shoot us an email and we can help get you on your way.

Ready for blast-off? Apply now.

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Our team is comprised of world-class mentors and specialists that drive our startups to success. If your passionate about the technology, the startup community we would love to hear from you!