If you’re an entrepreneur who’s looking to grow your startup, you might be thinking about applying to a startup accelerator to help you do that. But before you sit down and start frantically working on your pitch deck, make sure you answer these four questions. But before you do that, I’d like to give a big thank you to the Managing Director of Flat6Labs Cairo, Willie Elamien, for letting me interview him for this piece and helping me share these nuggets of wisdom with you!
Question #1: Are you pitching your startup to the right accelerator?
This may seem like a fairly obvious question, but the answer might surprise you. Some startup accelerators can focus on different sectors (i.e. health technology) and stages of investment (ie. idea stage versus growth stage). However, many accelerators in the MENA are “sector-agnostic.”
So, you should definitely review each accelerator that you want to pitch carefully, so you can avoid the embarrassment of a “spray and pray strategy.” Once you have identified which accelerators meet your needs, spend time looking at each accelerator’s offerings and portfolio.
Who is in their mentorship network? What services and tools can they provide to help you grow your business? What other startups are currently in their portfolio? How do their startups fare after graduating from their accelerator program?
Based on the aforementioned criteria, you should be able to build a fairly comprehensive profile for each accelerator, which will ultimately help you determine which accelerator is the best fit for your startup.
Question #2: Do you have a plan for how you want to leverage an accelerator program to grow your business?
Just like a venture capitalist, an angel investor, a mentor, or a coach, an accelerator is a tool that can help you progress during your startup journey. But a tool is only useful when you know how and where to use it.
While associating your startup with a well-known accelerator might give you a boost in prestige, that shouldn’t be the only reason you want to join an accelerator. Before sending off any applications, make sure to create a list of goals that you want to achieve with the resources and networks that your desired accelerator program can offer you.
The idea of this “accelerator optimization road map” is to help you maximize the value of any accelerator program that you join. That being said, an accelerator won’t make or break your startup. As long as you focus on your customer and building something that they want, everything will eventually fall into place.
Question #3: Do you have the right attitude about your startup?
This might seem like an odd question to ask, because as an entrepreneur, you wouldn’t invest your money and time into something you didn’t believe in. But this question doesn’t refer to the passion that you feel about your startup, it refers more to how you feel about the way that others perceive your startup.
In the past, I have met entrepreneurs who have told me that the reason that their startup wasn’t attracting investors or winning pitch competitions was because their idea was too complicated or not “sexy enough.” But do these factors actually contribute to the failure of a startup?
They shouldn’t. Because any idea can be interesting if you pitch it the right way. So, if you believe that your product is complicated or boring then everything you say and do will convey that subliminal message.
However, if you’re an engaging presenter who can share their passion and startup vision convincingly, you should be able to captivate any audience or panel of judges that you pitch to.
Question #4: Are you prepared to present your startup pitch to an audience?
When entrepreneurs practice for a pitch, they tend to focus on perfecting their elevator pitch. But a startup pitch isn’t a monologue, it eventually turns into a conversation between the entrepreneur and the audience (or panel of judges) and it is important for an entrepreneur to prepare themselves for this conversation.
How can you prepare yourself for questions that haven’t been asked? There are two ways that you can do that. First, put yourself in the shoes of the investor who will be watching your pitch. What questions do you think they will ask you? Brainstorm as many questions as you can and prepare an appropriate response for each question.
Second, you can present your pitch to your family and friends and take note of their questions and repeat the same process. Try to pitch to other entrepreneurs too. They will help you think about your problem in a new light.
What happens if on the day of the pitch you’re asked a question that you don’t know how to answer? Stay calm and say something to the effect of “I don’t have that answer now, but I will get back to you.”
Resist the urge to lie or exaggerate at all costs, because it might do more harm than good. No one expects you to have all the answers. So, just focus on building your credibility by showing your audience that you have what you need to scale your business.
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