Without desks and a demo day, are accelerators worth it?

As a result of the pandemic, accelerators have moved operations fully remote to abide by social distancing. The shift has forced well-known programs like 500 Startups, Y Combinator and Techstars to go fully online, while encouraging existing venture capital firms to launch new digital-only fellowships like Cleo Capital and NextView Ventures.

Before the pandemic, accelerators could advertise their value by lending desk space once used by Airbnb, Twilio and Brex’s co-founders, plus a glitzy demo day. Now, stripped of their in-person element, the actual value of an accelerator program — and the network they provide — is being tested in new ways.

So a question remains for participating founders: Are they getting the benefits of what they thought they signed up for?

In the Zoom where it happened

The last thing Michael Vega-Sanz wanted to do was was join another Zoom get-together for entrepreneurs. But the car-sharing company he co-founded with twin brother Matthew was in the middle of a pivot, so they joined NextView Ventures’ inaugural remote accelerator program.

“I envisioned an accelerator with awkward happy hours, mass Zoom calls,” Vega-Sanz said. Fast-forward one month into the program, he says it “has been quite the opposite.”

Before joining NextView’s accelerator, Vega-Sanz did an in-person incubator at Babson College in Boston, but there’s “a lot less fluff” in being virtual, he told TechCrunch.

“[With in-person] the reality was you’d go to lunch, and by the time you drove over there and had all your side talk, small talk, chit-chat and actually got into the nitty-gritty of the event, there was a lot of time loss,” he said. “You could have been working for your company during that time.”

If possible, Vega-Sanz still recommends that first-time founders attend a physical accelerator instead of a virtual one for the energy it brings, even with the downside of useless events.

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