Top 5 Tips to Pitch Your Way Into Startup Accelerators by@janefisher

Top 5 Tips to Pitch Your Way Into Startup Accelerators

Accelerator programs are specially designed for founders and teams looking to refine their strategy, receive qualified mentorship, raise funding – and much more. The more benefits the accelerator program offers, the fiercer the competition for participating in it. To stand out among the rest of the applicants, invest your time into nailing your application. Have your answers ready, keep your visuals at hand, talk about problems and solutions, and be specific. As long as you stick to this formula during interviews, your chances of success will be maximized. And, of course, add some passion – as a cherry on top.
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Jane Fisher

Former journo gone tech. Head of Communications at MediXSpace – a Healthtech startup helping cancer patients and doctors

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Participating in startup accelerators is one of the best ways to grow and scale up your startup. Accelerator programs are specially designed for founders and teams looking to refine their strategy, receive qualified mentorship, raise funding – and much more.


Top reasons to join startup accelerators include:


➕ Access to exclusive coaching from experienced mentors, successful startup founders, and industry leaders


➕ Joining a network of other fellow startup founders, senior executives, investors, and even government authority representatives


➕ Opportunities to find clients and institutions for pilot projects and sales


➕ Polish and get feedback on presentations, pitches, press releases, and other materials that are important for your fundraising and sales activities


➕ Get funding – from small early-stage angel investments to closing seed rounds worth a few million.


The more benefits the accelerator program offers, the fiercer the competition for participating in it. Contrary to a popular belief that it’s passion and dedication that matters most, it’s important to understand that neither of these two will actually make your startup stand out.


In the 2020s, the whole startup scene is passionate and dedicated by default – you need more than that to differentiate yourself from the rest.


Here are a few tips that will help you secure your seat on some of the most desired startup accelerator journeys.

Tip 1: Narrow Down Your Choice

The first thing to understand about startup accelerators is that there are hundreds of them out there. Some of them are indeed extremely competitive – the rumored acceptance rate for the world-famous Y-Combinator program is said to range around 1.5-2%.


However, you don’t necessarily need to target the most famous accelerators to get the opportunities you’re seeking. In fact, some smaller niche programs may give you a much better understanding of a particular sector or a regional market.


The best way to approach your accelerator-enhanced growth strategy is to do your research and make a list of programs that you are specifically interested in. Put them together into a spreadsheet and fill it in with details such as hosting institutions, deadlines, timeframes, and other notes.


Check your eligibility for each accelerator: you don’t want to waste time applying for a program you can’t qualify for. Some things to consider:


📌 If you are applying for a program in a different country, do they accept international entries, or do you need to register a local entity?


📌 Does your funding stage match the requirements?


📌 Are there any particular market sectors or challenges that the program is focused on? If yes, is your startup the right fit?


📌 What do they require in return? If it’s an equity share, are you willing to give up the share they are asking for?


Once you’ve put together your shortlist, you can start applying. Make sure you decide which programs are most important to you, and which you can skip. Even if you pass the selection, you can cancel your participation before the program begins – but doing that when the program has already kicked off will cause the organizers a lot of inconveniences.


It’s not the end of the world, but the startup world is smaller than you think – so it’s best to mind your reputation and keep your records clean.

Tip 2: Prepare and Preserve Your Responses (To Recycle Them!)

Filling in all these application forms requires quite some time. The good news is, that you don’t have to write all your answers from scratch – many questions in these questionnaires tend to be similar. To save your efforts, create a file where you will store this information for future applications.


The file should contain anything from the basic questions (e.g., founders’ backgrounds, current funding, elevator pitches, brief product overviews) to more program-specific points covering how exactly you will tackle certain challenges or what your desired program outcomes are.


Whenever the question in the application form is slightly different from the ones you have answered before, make a new edit of your previous answers and save it, too. You can keep it in a simple Google Doc file on your drive (so you can find the right information by searching with relevant keywords) or even create a separate database with FAQ for startup accelerators. Whatever works for you and is simple enough to use for your team.


Having these answers at hand will save you a good deal of time, as you’ll only have to copy and paste your answers with minor edits. You’ll thank me for this tip next time you’ll find yourself applying for a program last-minute!

Tip 3: Craft Your Visuals

Almost every accelerator will require you to submit your pitch deck presentation. On top of that, some may also request a company one-pager or even video materials – such as a short product demo or a founder’s pitch. As visuals generally take longer to produce, it’s best to have them at hand – although they are more difficult to make than write-ups, it is also a great opportunity for you to make a great impression and stand out.


With pitch decks and one-pagers, it can be a one-time commitment – as long as you put a reasonable amount of effort into making them, you should be able to reuse them as much as needed. Just make sure you update important information such as product use figures, funding, and other details that may change over time.


Video materials may seem more difficult to produce, but in fact, you really don’t need to hire professional videographers or animators to do it. Here are a few multimedia pieces you can stock up on for your accelerator applications:


✅ Record a quick product demo and edit it into a one-minute movie with clear, basic subtitles explaining what is going on in the shot. You can use free intuitive video software like iMovie or OpenShot, or opt for more sophisticated solutions like Adobe Premiere Pro.


✅ Make a minute-long team video presentation. It can be an actual video with each of your team members saying something about what you do on camera or a slideshow. If you don’t have any good-quality images of your team, consider creating a fun animated video with characters looking like your colleagues! Use online animation tools such as Vyond or Toonly to put together your cartoon team and animate them with subtitles.


✅ Record a brief elevator pitch of your company. Make sure you articulate the problem you are trying to solve, how your product tackles it, who your customers are, and who is going to pay for your solution. Although few startup accelerators ask you for this piece of media (for example, the Pitch competition at the annual WebSummit in Lisbon does), it’s always handy to have it – after all, you can always enclose a link to this video in an answer to one of the questions about your product.

Tip 4: Concentrate on the Problems and Solutions (Not the Tech!)

There is no point in bragging about your smart AI, NLP, OCR, and fancy cloud solutions if you cannot clearly articulate how exactly they are solving an existing problem. What is the need that you are addressing? What will happen when your innovation is adopted? Concentrate on answering these two questions as clearly and concisely as you can – the technology itself comes next.


Don’t say something like “We have developed an AI-powered gamified behavioral health app for curing endorphin-mediated disorders” – it is highly unlikely that anyone at all will understand what your product is, and why the world needs it. Nor do accelerator organizers have time to google the background behind your innovation.


If you’re not too limited in symbols, you can write something like: “We have developed a smart app for people suffering from addictions that will educate them about their condition and maximize the impact of treatment. We use a gamified approach to transform their routine into daily quests that keep them engaged.”


Or shorten it down by cutting the second sentence – it will still give a better idea of what your product is about. You can always go into further technical specs of your product at the interview if you pass the first round of selection.

Tip 5: Be Reasonable and Specific

Randomly inserting words like “biggest”, “disruptive”, “innovative” and “global” will not add extra points to your application. Rather than flooding your statements with generic adjectives that really say nothing about your project, focus on listing facts that will make the organizing committee figure out how great it is. Use numbers and clear evidence – and if you don’t have any, be sure to articulate specific expected outcomes.


Compare:


“We have invented a disruptive technology for capturing carbon dioxide from the air”


Vs


“We have developed a technology for capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using the electrochemical approach. This method requires up to 70% less energy compared to other CO2 removal technologies, making our solution more cost-effective and scalable.”


The same applies to answering the question about your expectations from the program – almost every accelerator application form will ask you about that. Having gone through a lengthy questionnaire, you are likely to experience an urge to write something very generic in response.


“Pilot opportunities in the local ecosystem”, “contacts with potential partners”, and “investments” – well, yes, all of that might very well be true. But these answers give zero foundation for your desire to join this particular accelerator. Nor do these phrases help you stand out amongst dozens or hundreds of other candidates looking for precisely the same things.


There’s nothing wrong with any of these answers as long as you stick to being specific. Look at the accelerators’ lists of partners and explain how they could help you in carrying out your pilot projects.


Alternatively, do your research on previous cohorts: find other startups in your sector which have participated in the program and bring them up as an example of what you are aiming to achieve. This bit of extra effort will make the organizers appreciate your attitude and dedication to getting into this particular program.

Last, but Not Least

Remember that all these principles apply to further stages of startup accelerator selection, too. Have your answers ready, keep your visuals at hand, talk about problems and solutions, and be specific. As long as you stick to this formula during interviews, your chances of success will be maximized.


And, of course, be passionate. Paired with the right preparation, that’ll do the trick.

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Jane Fisher HackerNoon profile picture
by Jane Fisher @janefisher.Former journo gone tech. Head of Communications at MediXSpace – a Healthtech startup helping cancer patients and doctors
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