As it seems that there are more and more of such programs popping up and growing like mushrooms, structured in a similar way according to the capital and services offered, I have been speaking to many entrepreneurs in different accelerator programs to understand their motives for participating. What brings them from far away for a few ten thousands of Euros, a three months period of promised mentorship and desk space in the rather affordable city of Berlin? Of all the answers that I have heard the one that was the most repeated was the international network. It was not only one entrepreneur who proudly pointed out to me that he now has a couch to crash in many different places of the world. Stories of shared dinners, late night drinks and afternoon ping-pong tournaments made me think of my time as an Erasmus student.
Are startup accelerator programs to entrepreneurs what the Erasmus program is to students?
Compared to the Erasmus program for students, an accelerator program is a relative save place for entrepreneurs to play, to find their true fit and to connect with other like minded people. It is a delimited timeframe, an initial investment that will usually make sure that the founders and small teams do not have to worry about survival for the time being and with an office and regular schedule there is not much pressure on the startups.
Students leave their home college for six or ten months of studying at a different university, in a far away or not so far away country, sometimes in a new language, but always in a new environment where they learn to swim a new. They make new friends, get to know themselves and mostly new capacities, and generally speaking for most, the studies become less important. It’s not even all universities that will accept credits earned at the partner university so for a part of the Erasmus students it is more about enjoying free time than about studying at the library for the final exams.
My impression is that this is pretty similar to what startup founders are experiencing in some of the startup accelerator programs. It seems like an attractive offer to try out, to buy time for the startup to develop, to find the right customers, to work on the technology…Instead of facing the truth of harsh professors, exam deadlines and competitive fellow students, being in a protected zone seems worth the cut in equity.
How are startups actually using the contacts they have gained?
Other than fundraising and product development, how do the contacts gained make an influence on the founders or the company’s life? Is it friendship, a new international perspective or the prestige of a famous?