Once you’ve found an accelerator (or accelerators) that is relevant for you, your first step is to visit the website to see if they are accepting applications. But what if they are mid-program or their applications are not open yet?
This is the perfect time to start building a relationship with the Managing Director (MD) or other staff of the accelerator. It will not only greatly increase your chances of eventually getting accepted, but has other benefits as well. A really good MD is always on the hunt for great startups and when she finds one, she will want to engage with them as much as possible. She will do this by immediately providing benefits to you the founder, such as insights on how to grow your company or introductions to mentors or investors. In this way, your company is already being ‘accelerated’.
To connect with the MD, look for their name on the website, then search for them on LinkedIn. See if you have connections in common, or 2nd degree connections, that can make an introduction. If not, send them a succinct yet relevant LinkedIn message, pitching them your business.
If the MD is not responding, try with staff lower down the food chain and then move your way up. Most MDs have someone that reports directly to them, often called a Program Associate or Program Manager. They are usually more accessible and willing to connect. Also, they are often charged with sourcing startups, so feel pressure to meet as many viable companies as possible. In fact, if you don’t feel like your ‘pitch’ is super strong, you may want to start with them before you try to connect with the MD.
Regardless of who you are speaking with, you should approach this with a long term view. That means your communication should be slow and steady rather than quick and spammy. You should also treat this like a sales process. You will start with a large funnel of accelerator MDs and their associates. Some will respond. Others won’t. But you need to be persistent and methodical. For great tips on this, read The Dirty Details From A Grueling Fundraising Story (originally posted in Funding Alert 22).
Pro Tip: Relationship Building And Pitch Days
Many of the better accelerators go on tour to scout new startups. The MD will visit various cities to listen to pitches and will give immediate feedback. This is a great opportunity for you to connect with the MD. Email the accelerator team to see if they run these and to learn their dates and locations. Hopefully they are coming to a town close to you.