Best practices for applying to seed accelerators

Posted: February 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: posts | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

A few weeks ago, I posted some advice to entrepreneurs applying to the various seed programs. As the deadlines loom, I’m sure that many more are in the process of tackling the application. I’ve been reviewing some applications for DreamIt Ventures and based on some of what I’m seeing in those reviewed thus far, I wanted to put some additional advice out there.

  1. Put some thought into the applications. The program coordinators aren’t expecting an essay for each response (in fact, it’s good to be succinct), but one sentence responses to questions that don’t demonstrate any effort, thought, and/or motivation are not going to help your cause. Motivation is big – not showing any in your application begs the question if you’ll have the energy and drive to push a startup through to success. Remember, this is an application for thousands of dollars and hours upon hours of mentoring. Inspire some confidence that you can take advantage of this and harness it to achieve what you proclaim. As an example: In response to the questions around competition, don’t just say something to the effect that “There is no competition. We are the only ones who have been smart enough to think of this idea.” First off, it’s a red flag that you don’t think there’s any competition – there’s usually always something you can point to. Second, even if there’s nothing you feel competes directly, use this as an opportunity to emphasize your competitive advantage. I focused on the competitive question because that’s one that stands out to me, but this is equally true of any question on the application. Take some time. Think. Don’t take the easy way out of a question. That’s the fastest way to get a rejection.
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  3. Co-founders and the product. Everyone who writes one of these advice posts talks about the quality of the team. Even though (in general) single founders are red flags, do not just add a co-founder because you need a second warm body. Make sure they add something to the overall package. And if both of you are business grads and have only studied marketing, let’s be realistic – how is the product going to get built? The product is an integral aspect of any startup, so you’d better make sure that your application shows evidence of how you’re going to be able to make something. Not having a dedicated technology co-founder, is a red flag, but if you’re thinking there’s some other way to implement your plans, you had better be extremely detailed in explaining your thinking. And when describing your tech co-founder’s experience in the application, this is when it’s important to illustrate relevant past work. Please don’t just toss in generic buzz words – people with tech backgrounds will see through you and discredit you. Demos, prototypes, mockups – any kind of code will help to demonstrate that there’s something to your team.
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  5. For the love of all that is good, don’t simply submit an application that is a blatant clone of one of the program’s earlier portfolio companies. First off, the partners have been advising this company for almost a year at this point. There’s a very good chance they know as much about the market as you – you’d better make sure you show that you’re an expert in the space. Any gaps in your thinking will be extremely evident. Second, you’d be well advised to show some original thought and differentiate yourself somewhat. It’s been nearly a year since the original company was accepted. The market landscape for startups shifts extremely rapidly. As such, logic bears that something must have changed or progressed. The original startup has learned and evolved. Does your idea show the same evolution? In general, I would be cautious about cloning ideas – I think there’s little reason to accept them and furthermore, if you’re showing the kind of forward thinking and innovation that these accelerator programs promote and encourage, then you’re probably not going to be an exact clone anyway. Iterate and evolve. You’ll be doing it all summer anyway.

Finally, I can’t overemphasize the importance of building a dialogue, as I wrote earlier. Don’t wait until the last minute! Allow time to have a conversation! But also, the strongest applicants find ways to go beyond the application form to show the program that they’re motivated and have what it takes to get stuff done.