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How to Get the Most Out of an Accelerator Program

Not all accelerator programs are created equal. Follow this list of do's and dont's to make sure you find the right one for your company.
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Accelerators are an amazing way for entrepreneurs to learn the ropes of launching (and running) a business while also gaining valuable connections. That is if founders select the right one for their needs.

Participating in the TechStars Boston accelerator program has had a profound effect on the success of my company Codeship, a developer-tool company. I made vital connections, expanded my local network, received excellent advice and increased my work ethic due to long hours of training sessions, demonstration preparations and mentorship meetings. By the time my team and I graduated from the program, we had attracted local investors and were on our way to receiving our Series A funding. This probably wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for TechStars, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity. But all accelerator programs are not created equal.

Here’s how to make sure you get the most out of yours.

DO consider the big picture. A big name like Y Combinator and TechStars isn’t everything, as these accelerators may not make sense for your company's vision. That said, it’s important to work with an organization that already has an established network in your desired location.

Related: How to Get Into the Nation's Elite Accelerators

For example, I knew I wanted to relocate my business from Vienna, Austria to Boston, so I made sure to look at programs in that area. If you finish the program and then move somewhere totally new, you can’t take that local network with you. Before you apply, do your homework. Find out the names of the people heading up the program and consider their background and areas of expertise. Do they have a lot of experience in an area you need to improve to grow your business? Are they a financier who has invested in a company like yours before? Think about it, and make an educated decision based on the whole package.

DON’T expect fun and games. Participating in TechStars was one of the most rewarding -- and taxing -- times in my life. My co-founders and I were new to Boston and excited to join a fresh community where a lot of the people were just like us -- young entrepreneurs entering the tech-startup scene. But there was little time to explore and check out the area once we arrived.

Most accelerator programs last several weeks -- or sometimes months -- and require jam-packed schedules filled with intense mentorship sessions, presentations and a demo day. You won’t have a lot of free time. Be ready for that.

DO leverage the network. Think about how the people involved in the program can help you, and always have your elevator pitch ready. Hit the pavement running and get customers.  Make sure your MVP (Most Viable Product) is ready. Show the people around you that you’re able to build a company and that you’re already well on your way. They’ll be more likely to take a chance on you when you’re done with the program and looking for funding.

Related: Thinking of Joining an Incubator? Check Off These 5 Things First.

DON’T wait for other people to do your work. Though the program will definitely be educational, it’s not school, so don’t expect your “teachers” to nag you to get your work done. An accelerator program can be a great opportunity, but you’ll only get out of it what you give. Find inspiration by focusing 100 percent on your company and envisioning its success. It’s yours. Make the decisions. Build the business. At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask the hard questions.

DO have clear, defined roles within your team. Make sure everyone knows the part they have to play. There’s only one CEO; not everyone will be doing the pitching. Your marketing person should be learning how to build your brand and your product developer should be talking to customers and focusing on building a product the market really needs.. You, as CEO, need to make sure you’re in front of the right people telling your story. Everyone has a different, but equally important, role that will contribute to the overall success of the company.

DON’T waste time. You have to wake up every day determined to win. You’ve been given one, big chance to make your dream a reality, and it will be over in the blink of an eye. Savor every moment and listen carefully to every piece of advice you receive. Once you “graduate,” another class will take your place and you and your team will be history. Make the most out of your time and demand not to be forgotten.  

Related: What to Look for in an Accelerator Program