Our experience tells us that the things that make an accelerator are not as intuitive as they seem. Copying models that work in one place (such as YC or Techstars) and expecting them to work in a different place (with differences in capital availability, know-how, and culture) is a failing strategy. The ones that survive change their strategy (reorganizing as funds or different types of organizations). So we set out to look into what makes an accelerator successful.

We also wanted to understand things beyond the accelerators we’ve worked with. Experience is useful but it leads to biases and a limited vision. While our goal is to build better tools for accelerators and investors, we are confident that you’ll find at least one insight or approach in this series that will nudge you to change your strategy or approach. This change can lead to only a handful of startups becoming more efficient or successful—and that means “making the world a better place” for their customers too. This may not mean much for one accelerator, but the power of compounding can create a great deal of impact if more of you find this useful.

That being said, we have to tell you this is not a proper market research study (but, hey, it’s free). The conclusions and insights were definitely influenced by our past experiences and our view of the field. Any proper research expert can easily poke holes in our methodology and make this report look worse than Swiss cheese.

We sent out this survey to over 500 accelerators and got 126 detailed replies. We also interviewed in-depth over 50 accelerators over the past two years. Here are some details:

  • 38% of the respondents are based in North America, 32% in Europe, 17% in Oceania, 6% in Latin America, 5% in Asia and 2% are Global.
  • 45% of the accelerators are Private Programs (fund-backed), 12% are University Programs, 10% NGO Programs, 7% Corporate Accelerators, 5% Governmental Programs and 21% are other types of programs (not for profit programs and hybrids between private, governmental & co)
  • 85% of the respondents have Executive positions in the company, the rest of 15% are in different positions (Communication specialists, Marketing people, Business Analysts, Mentors & Advisors)

While the sample we used to draw the conclusions is not particularly impressive in terms of quantity, keep in mind that there are only around 10,000 Accelerators worldwide, to begin with.

It was a lot of work on our side (if we had done this only to sell our products and services, believe me, that buying an email list, spamming everyone on it, then paying the GDPR fines would have been more efficient). In the end, we found out quite a few things we did not know, so we thought it’s worth putting it out.

If you find it useful, share it further. If not, tell us how we can make it better next time!

Report contents

  • Introduction and Methodology
    Introducing a series of articles detailing the findings and insights from a research study carried on more than 170 accelerators.
  • Part 1: Deal flow is a major challenge for 2/3 of accelerators
    59% of all accelerators get low-quality applications. 31% don’t get enough applications. 26% of all accelerators get both insufficient and low-quality applications. Lack of awareness and reputation, competition, and an unbalanced offering are the top deal flow challenges.
  • Part 2: Focus may increase efficiency, but doesn’t guarantee better deals
    Today, there is an abundance of options for startups. This makes the competition fierce, so accelerators have to find ways to appeal to top startups. Specialization is the most common strategy to tackle deal flow quantity and quality.
  • Part 3: Lack of reporting discipline is most often the accelerator’s fault
    Getting startups to report during and after the program is a challenge for most accelerators, but the discipline of reporting should be enforced and grown within the programs.
  • Part 4: Education is essential for incubation but disruptive for acceleration
    Acceleration should not be an educational program ending with a Demo Day, but a process aimed at helping build successful business by offering the right support. Build your acceleration process to help you reach your end goals, considering the available resources.
  • Part 5: Mentoring beyond bragging rights and looking good
    Matching mentors with startups is a tedious process for various reasons. Many startups chase famous/known mentors, who have less availability, while disregarding less popular mentors who might be more willing to give time and help. Matching mentors with startups in the beginning is not a guarantee of effective mentoring throughout the program.
  • Part 6: Private Accelerators
    We’ve seen quite a few situations of new accelerators popping up, copying the YCombinator or TechStars model and expecting that hope (or “spray and pray”, how it’s often called in the investment world) will lead to success. In most cases, within three years, most of these ventures turned into a proper seed fund, an educational program, a corporate marketing initiative, or they just died (unfortunately, there is no clear data of this—maybe we’ll look at it in a further study).
  • Part 7: University Accelerators
    Universities that have embraced entrepreneurship and innovation as part of their curriculum are a good starting point for the entrepreneurial journey of the youth. Their first role when running an accelerator program is to convince students of the viability of entrepreneurship as a career path. They should be viewed as the safest place in which future entrepreneurs can practice real-world skills.
  • Part 8: Accelerator Success Metrics
    The reason an accelerator exists and its business model impact the way it selects and tracks its metrics. Choosing these metrics should focus on three simple pillars: why, what and how. These pillars often trump complex management or strategy consulting frameworks, and they are a great way to ensure that all the stakeholders are aligned from the start, that the brand of the accelerator is built with consistency across all messages, and that everyone in the team works toward the same end goal.