A startup incubator (or accelerator) is a program designed to help entrepreneurs grow their startups. Typically, each incubator program provides startups with a certain amount of capital in exchange for a small amount of equity.
Though every incubator is different, many provide coworking space, where startup founders work daily, classes and sessions to help grow the business, and mentorships where entrepreneurs can receive valuable advice and guidance from other professionals. Most importantly, these programs culminate in a Demo Day, where startups pitch their companies in front of a room full of investors.
Today, there are hundreds of incubators all around the world, and some are harder to get into than Ivy League colleges. Fortune magazine found that 7,000 startups had applied for the program in 2015, and accepted just 106, or 1.5%. By comparison, Harvard’s acceptance rate was 5.9% in 2014, and Stanford’s was 5.1%.
With such little acceptance rates, it’s normal to ask yourself, what can I do to increase my chances of acceptance? Here are a few tips for getting accepted into an incubator:
Have A Website
While having a website isn’t a requirement for applications, it certainly gives you an advantage over others. A well-designed website show that you’re organized and committed to putting your product or service out there. It also helps reviewers gain better insight into your design aesthetic and brand marketing. Sometimes, these things can make all the difference.
A well-branded site can tilt the odds in your favor. If you’re applying for an incubator program soon, don’t fret. Platforms like WordPress have simple theme installation, thousands of theme designs for optimal creativity, and hundreds of plugins to extend your core functionalities. You’ll have a website up and running in no time.
Research Different Incubators
You should apply to 2-3 incubators, and each application should be tailored that specific incubator. It’s important that you research to find the right incubator for you.
Do not simply shoot for the top two on a list of the best startup incubators in the country. You’ll have to look at the websites of each incubator, and keep an active list with your own ratings for each. For example, if you have been working on a health-based app, you might consider incubators who specialize in the health industry.
Reach Out To Alumni
Many incubators list startups who have previously been enrolled in their program. Make a list of potential CEOs to reach out to. You’d be surprised at how many people are willing to have a candid conversation about their experience at a particular incubator. Ask them if they’d recommend the program, and if they have any available tips for submitting a winning application. Some CEOs may even go as far as taking a look at your application to help you.
Approach these startup founders as if you’re looking for a mentor, and be sure to reel them in with compliments about their business!
Have A Solid Team Behind You
Incubators are prone to accepting startups that are still in the idea or prototype phase, provided the team members are an exceptional group of people. Strong teams stand out above business ideas. Great founders who haven’t defined their businesses quite yet are often malleable in the eyes of reviewers: they are more likely to come into the program and pivot based on serious discussions with mentors and peers.
With the right people in place, you can prove that no matter what the business strategy is, you’re prepared to take it through till the end.
Practice & Prepare Your Pitch
Your pitch could make or break your application. Be sure to amply discuss how your business will succeed, rather than focusing on what your startup needs to get there. It’s understood that your company needs help reaching its goals, but if you put too much emphasis on taking resources to achieve milestones, it can feel like less of a partnership.
It’s important that you take a look at each application and totality, and work to answer each question diligently. Don’t beat around the bush: information-packed answers (that aren’t complete essays) will do the trick. It might even be helpful to print applications long before you can apply, which allows you to get a headstart and run your business with those questions in mind. It can be a great guiding point.
Reviewers are looking for viability: they want to know whether the company has a long-term business model, or will need tons of resources to grow. It helps to research previous startup pitches to see how other companies are successfully attracting investors (and incubators). Take a look at this list of 30 legendary startup pitch decks to help you gain some much-needed inspiration.