How to get into a startup accelerator

Should you try to get your company into an accelerator? How far along should your idea and your team be before applying? When it is time to apply, how do you make your application stand out from hundreds or thousands of others? How fancy do you need to get with the application video?

For answers, we spoke with Neal Sáles-Griffin, managing director of Techstars Chicago, and the founder of one of the earliest coding bootcamps with Code Academy (later known as The Starter League). He is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University and was a mayoral candidate in Chicago’s 2019 election. He’s got an incredible wealth of knowledge about all things startups — our chat was only about 40 minutes long, but he absolutely crammed it with insights.

Here are some highlights from our conversation at TC Early Stage — Extra Crunch members will find the full video and a transcript below.


Why (or why not to) join an accelerator

Throughout the talk, Neal shares plenty of reasons why you might want to join an accelerator. The connections! The shared knowledge! The support network! The funding is nice too, of course — but he’s quick to point out that it shouldn’t be your sole motivation.

It can’t just be about the money. If it’s just about fundraising and you don’t really want any of the other parts of the experience, you’re probably setting yourself up to not have a very good time. I would highly recommend reconsidering that and instead focusing more on talking to early-stage investors who might be interested in providing more hands-on and specific support that you would need.

That being said, doing an accelerator can be amazing, because all those things that you would naturally do as a startup in your local ecosystem or community, or wherever you’re trying to grow your business … all of that happens in a far more immersive, effective and accelerated way. The mentors that you get connected to, the investors that you get introduced to, the level of knowledge, the holistic educational experience that you gain from being a part of an accelerator can be a game changer for so many startups that are in those early days of trying to figure out and find their path.
(Time stamp: 2:30)


Be prepared and follow up

It’s important to think through the entire interview process — not just your answers to the questions that might pop up. Knowing a little bit about the person interviewing you and showing that you really know what you’re getting into can go a long way.

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