For those start-ups looking to expand into a new realm of prosperity and development, accelerator programmes could be the way forward. But how do you succeed at getting on one? Melissa Morris, CEO of Lantum, shows how her company did exactly that…
Accelerators can be a fantastic way to simultaneously develop product market fit, raise finance and gain clients. That is why I would recommend them for early-stage start-up founders who find pushing on all of these things at once a challenge. Lantum joined 3 accelerators. The NHS Innovation Accelerator, the Cedars-Sinai accelerator in LA and the TMCX accelerator in Texas – we’re still reaping the benefits of all of them today.
It is no surprise, therefore, that good accelerators are highly competitive and once you’ve secured your place, you have a short timeframe to get the most out of it. Here is my advice on landing a place and my tips on what to do once you are in.
Do Your Research
When applying for a programme, think about how you can make it easy for the judging panel to select and grade you. Most of them will have a scorecard that they are judging you by, and usually they are quite forthcoming about what is in that scorecard which you can find on their website or in their literature, so try and plan your pitch and answers around it. If it’s an NHS accelerator, for example, I would also make sure you know in-depth what the national priorities are for the NHS overall and how your company aligns.
Next, carve out time to research the judges on the panel and what will spike their interest, what they are interested in and how you can connect with that.
Plan What You Can Give Back
It’s not just about what you can take from the programme; judges will also be looking for a cultural fit. Accelerators are always looking out for those entrepreneurs who contribute back to the peer group and support a constructive and positive working environment for everyone. Those who seem out for themselves, will likely be deemed unsuitable as a good culture fit. So don’t be shy about telling them what you can bring to the accelerator and the rest of the cohort.
When I joined the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA), I made sure I mentioned the NIA in press articles to help expose the good work they were doing. Or, for the Cedars-Sinai and TMCX programmes, I knew I was likely going to be one of the only Brits and I offered to share my NHS connections with those who were interested in expanding to the UK.
It’s not just about what you can take from the programme; judges will also be looking for a cultural fit. Accelerators are always looking out for those entrepreneurs who contribute back to the peer group and support a constructive and positive working environment for everyone.
CEO & Founder, Lantum
Be Choosy About the Pilots You Work On
An important piece of advice I would offer founders is not to necessarily rush to the first opportunity that presents itself as you’ll need to be sure that you pick an opportunity that fits your company’s capabilities.
One way to do this is to meet as many potential pilot partners as you possibly can during the first phase of the programme. One of the benefits of many accelerators is that they offer a navigation service to match-make you with pilots and potential clients. You should definitely take advantage of this and set up as many suitable meetings as you can. You can also expand this further by asking every person you meet if they know anyone else who you could learn from – I find that people are surprisingly generous with their contact book if you simply ask them.
While conducting the meetings, it helps to score the opportunities based on four criteria: how well your product will fit the client use case, the speed it would take to get up and running, the level of excitement of the sponsor (willingness to pay is often a good gauge of this), and finally, the size of the opportunity (how many other people have this problem). Throughout the process, I would weigh product-fit the highest because you only have three months to prove yourself and you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew.
My personal view is the size of opportunity is less important because even if the first thing you work on relates to a small market, getting up and running fast is key. This gives you a wedge into the system and a case study to use as a springboard to expand elsewhere. If you choose the big opportunity, you run the risk of not having delivered anything by the time the programme is over – and when the programme is over, it’s important to know that the hands-on support is gone, focus goes onto the next cohort, and you are back on your own.
Plan the Team Involved
The decision of who from your team should participate in the accelerator programme is important. Overall, you want to send a cross-section of skill sets. Make sure you have product representation; a good designer will pay off in spades and an administrative or operational person who is organized can act as the connective tissue for a pilot. I would guard against sending salespeople to the programme – my view is that the founder should be primarily selling the business at this stage, and it can also be a difficult environment for a salesperson who normally excels once you have a product that fits the market.
To make the most of the programme, the founder needs to be there – so, don’t forget to have someone running the ship back home (particularly if it’s an abroad accelerator). This will allow you to focus on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The clients, mentors and peer-sets you could learn from are ones you’ll still rely on in future: make the most of it!
ABOUT OUR GUEST WRITER
CEO & Founder, Lantum
Melissa Morris is the CEO and Founder of Lantum, a transformative workforce scheduling, engagement and payments platform used by over 3,000 healthcare organizations in the UK.
Melissa has featured in national publications including The Sunday Times, The Evening Standard, City AM, Sky News and was named Management Today’s 35 under 35.