Accelerators – A Valuable Spoke in the Wheel of the StartUp Ecosystem

Vinny Gambini: “And why not? What is positraction?”My-Cousin-Vinny-Poster

Mona Lisa Vito: “It’s a limited slip differential which distributes power equally to both the right and left tires.  The ’64 Skylark had a regular differential, which, anyone who’s been stuck in the mud in Alabama knows, you step on the gas, one tire spins, the other tire does nothing.”  Dialogue from movie My Cousin Vinnie.

Over the years, I have heard many people attempt to describe accelerators and when I do, I can’t help but recall this classic dialogue.  I wish what those people conveyed was as clear.  While I love the various elements of the NY Region StartUp ecosystem, one of the real gems is the great accelerators which have developed.  Withum is very proud to be associated as sponsors and mentors to a couple of the best (in my humble opinion) ERA in NY (the brainchild of Murat, Jonathan and Charlie) and TechLaunch in NJ (created by Mario Casabona.)  As great as they are, they still seem to be misunderstood, so I thought I would take some time to help clarify matters.

First, some background.  The concept of providing help to early stage companies goes back a good number of years.  When I was a manager at EY, (no computers then and yes, ledger sheets) I had the chance to serve Scholastic.  In a meeting with the then CEO M. R. Robinson, Sr. (Robbie) I was asked if we still had an incubator program. Apparently in the 30’s, the then Scholastic Magazines was an “incubator company.”  The typical incubator program was usually centered around a University and provided a few key elements to the fledgling entrepreneur including space at bargain prices, access to university resources (including valuable computer time) and sometimes help from a professor with appropriate subject matter expertise.  Incubators following these same concepts  still thrive today.

Today’s more advanced version of the incubator is called an accelerator and they grew out of some successes on the West Coast where a few additional important ingredients were added to the incubator formula including some program structure, mentors and financial support.  The overarching principle is culling from past successes to provide some best practices, people who had “been there and done that” and funds to provide a nurturing atmosphere where the next generation of entrepreneurs could grow at a fast pace, thus the concept of an accelerator.

Participating in an accelerator today is like a combination boot camp, executive program, reality show and internship all on steroids.  If you are admitted as a participant, you will have to be prepared to push your limits, get out of your comfort zone and absorb a great deal to accelerate your company to the next level.  Your peers in their own way will encourage and challenge you.  You will feel the need to succeed not because you are competing against others, but because you do not want to let them down.  Trust me, you will find all the support and guidance you need but what you do with it is up to you.  And, don’t be surprised if you need a “pivot” to get there.

The progress we have seen entrepreneurs make in advancing their companies in an accelerator environment has been nothing short of remarkable.  It can be a great experience for the right entrepreneur and team.  But, keep in mind, you and your team have to be ready to open your mind to new ways to accelerate the development of your business.

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