Startup Accelerator Programs

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FAQ

General Questions

WHAT IS THE OPEN ACCELERATION PROGRAM (O.A.P.)?

It's an acceleration framework created to run successful startup accelerator programs. It helps startups go from idea stage to scale-ready stage.

WHERE SHOULD I USE IT?

Although it was created to run Startup Accelerators, you can also use it to run/create your Startup, Pre-Accelerator, Incubator, Startup Camp, Course, or whatever suits you.

WHY CAN STARTUPS BENEFIT FROM STARTUP ACCELERATOR PROGRAMS?

Because it helps them organize and understand all the important topics and steps of startup creation.

DOES THE O.A.P. WORK BY ITSELF?

No, it needs (in this order):
1. High-quality mentors
2. A program coordinator
3. Nice co-working space filled with startups

Mentor-driven startup accelerator programs are the common ground for every accelerator around the globe. Mentors are definitely the most important element, as they usually bring tons of knowledge, experience, networking, and sometimes, investment. They are definitely the reason that startups progress so fast in such a short period of time.

The program coordinator can be a hired dedicated professional or be divided between startup cofounders (option for low-budget, self-organized accelerators)

A co-working space, although seeming to be a very simple element, also has a huge impact on the development of the startups. A shared office is the best way to encourage startups to share knowledge and learning, and to auto-regulate themselves, watching each other’s hard work and evolution.

HOW LONG IS THE O.A.P.?

The O.A.P. is based on a 30-week-long agenda (about 7 1/2 months).

WHY SO LONG?

Although it is very common to find programs that last 3-4 months at accelerators around the world, results produced in such a short time are usually only a very good pitch deck.

BUT WHY DOES IT WORK AT YC, TECHSTARS, AND OTHER SILICON VALLEY ACCELERATORS?

Shorter accelerations are viable in countries with more developed startup ecosystems (especially a great funding ecosystem) and with a selection of later-stage startups already at growth stage. In other words, it mostly works at Silicon Valley.

IF I WANT, CAN I MAKE IT SHORTER?

Yes, of course. But, again, remember that a shorter program needs more advanced-growth-stage startups.

HOW IS IT ORGANIZED?

The program is divided into big monthly challenges, broken into smaller weekly challenges with a day-by-day agenda.

For each challenge/delivery there's a set of recommended tools and content.

On Mondays mentors lead a workshop related to the challenge of the week, generating not only learning experiences, but also practice and guidance on how to accomplish the desired development by the end of the week. Instead of workshops you can opt for mentoring sessions, but remember that this gets harder if you have too many startups in your program (= lots of hours of mentoring from a single mentor to cover all startups).

From Tuesday to Thursday startup teams work on tasks they have to deliver as part of the weekly challenge.

On Fridays the day ends with a lessons-learned meeting where the startups share the key things that they learned during the week.

WHAT ABOUT WORKSHOPS CONTENT?

That’s up to the mentors which you’re going to invite to conduct the workshops. They will be responsible to provide the slides, exercises, etc. They also can adapt the deliveries, suggested tools, and content for each week as they wish.

CAN I CHANGE THE PROGRAM AS I WISH?

Of course, it's open with creative commons copyright (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported).

CAN I DO IT DURING THE PROGRAM?

A small piece of advice about the program is: Stick to the plan. An agenda of events and deliveries is very important, and if you try to change it while executing it you can re-create the big mess you were trying to avoid to begin with.

DO STARTUPS HAVE TO DO ALL THAT?

Despite having an exhausting rhythm and a structure that demands discipline, I don’t think startups have to do it all. So don't demand attendance or reprimand them about finishing their tasks. The startups need to go through the program knowing how to self-organize. And good performers will find their own good and fast rhythm; the bad ones will get away and drop off naturally from it.

FAQ 2

Questions About Mentors

WHY ARE MENTORS SO IMPORTANT?

Worldwide, the concept of startup accelerators is based on mentor-driven programs. Mentors are the main source of knowledge, expertise, and network, capable of speeding up startups development.

HOW MANY MENTORS ARE NEEDED?

In the case of the O.A.P., you may need over 30 mentors to have a proper program execution. You may be able to reduce this number, but remember, you have over 30 different challenges/topics to cover.

SO WHAT’S THE ROLE OF MENTORS?

The role of mentors can be explained by this sentence from the TechStars website: "They are the best and the brightest entrepreneurial minds around, and they’ll go deep on your company. Their networks are enormous and valuable. TechStars mentors have over 3,000 years of combined experience at over 600 startups they’ve founded. They’ve been there and done that, and they’re here to help your company succeed."

This evidences the direct relation between mentors and acceleration program quality. It also proves that without mentors there’s no acceleration. Even if you have a great Accelerator’s Management Team, no such team would be able to transfer so much knowledge and help with such a variety of topics and networking.

WHICH MENTOR PROFILE SHOULD I LOOK FOR?

The best mentors are experienced professionals in the business/startup ecosystem. They have faced challenges and succeeded through them. They also need to master topics covered in the O.A.P.

So please, don’t select mentors who are good theorists, academics, university teachers, or anyone else who has never felt the pains of the entrepreneurial life.

DO THEY CHARGE?

TNo. It's not usual.

AND WHY DO MENTORS ACCEPT IT?

Many people that accept to participate as a mentor in an accelerator describe the experience as one of the most important work-related activities that they have done in many years. Being close to young startup entrepreneurs can be energizing, can broaden your horizons, and give a chance to give back to the entrepreneurial community. Many create a bond to startup founders so strong that they become lifelong friends.

In fact, there is nothing quite like working with people who are building something for the first time. All they see is vast opportunity ahead of them, and it's quite impossible for mentors not to get absorbed by some of that energy and feel like a first-time entrepreneur again. It's also incredible to feel part of the Startup Ecosystem family, gaining a new network of people with whom mentors can discuss ideas and exchange advice.

HOW TO FIND GOOD MENTORS:

In order to find and set up a “mentors dream team” you should:
1. Research
2. Hunt
3. Be cheeky

You need start by listing the topics you need to cover and then search mentors at blogs, books, and videos on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

Once more, avoid academics, theorists, or too-old professionals - They might have books published or lectures on YouTube, but lack hands-on know-how and do not understand the startup culture.

WHAT ARE THE BEST PRACTICES ON THE MENTOR RELATIONSHIP?

To maximize mentors’ participation, I recommend:
1) Mentors registration form – so you have all mentor data in one place
2) Playbook – A simple but straightforward document saying what’s expected from the mentor, what can be done, and what should be avoided.
3) Update Report – Mentors like to keep posted even after their program participation, and can keep helping if they have updates on how the startups are going.
4) Thank you card – Might seem something simple to list here, but a nice picture from the startup founders with the mentor signed with a big printed THANK YOU is a great reward for their donated time.

For more on the mentor topic, please read this great post from Ben Yoskovitz

FAQ 3

Questions for Those Who Wants to Create an Accelerator

WHAT IS A STARTUP ACCELERATOR?

A startup accelerator is a bridge to help entrepreneurs cross the chasm between the idea stage and the scale-ready stage.

HOW DO I CREATE ONE?

Acceleration Program + Mentors + Nice co-working space + Huge Network of Investors

WHY CREATING STARTUPS WITH AN ACCELERATOR IS BETTER?

There’s a huge list of benefits when using an accelerator, and that list makes a lot more sense in cities or countries in which the startup ecosystem is less developed and very far behind places like Silicon Valley.

An accelerator helps with:
_ Pressure and discipline for results
_ Access to experienced local and international professionals;
_ Basic office infrastructure, usually a co-working space to encourage exchange between startups;
_ Free credits on packages of cloud computing software and hosting;
_ Access to angel investors;
_ Access to journalists at specialized media sites and newspapers
_ Networking, networking, networking, networking

That doesn't mean that a startup cannot succeed outside of an accelerator. But with so much support and access to important assets, accelerators make many challenges easier for startups.

WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES TO AN ACCELERATOR?

For those who decide to go without an accelerator, you have many options available to help you:
_ Bootstrap, bank loans, government funding, FFF (family, friends and fools) as a pre-seed money source
_ Co-working spaces as a way to share knowledge
_ Startup competitions and events as a way to practice your pitch

CAN I CREATE A SELF-ORGANIZED ACCELERATOR?

Yes, and that's my favorite option of all! How would that work? Simple! Here’s a simple step-by-step:
1. Gather a group of startups (10 startups, for example);
2. Name the program - make it clear it’s self-organized, no equity taken;
3. Rent an office and turn it into a co-working space (and share expenses);
4. Find and Invite Mentors;
5. Execute O.A.P.!

WHAT'S THE BUSINESS MODEL OF A STARTUP ACCELERATOR?

Startups Accelerators run a two-sided platform business model, offering value to Startup Entrepreneurs and Angel Investors. The biggest challenge of the model is related to its revenue stream, based on a long-term high-risk exit strategy. And the biggest strategy is to double-down on winners.

But as I don't believe in such a business model outside Silicon Valley and think that Accelerators around the world should be self-organized, I won't go any further on this topic.

SO ACCELERATORS DON'T MAKE MONEY?

No, it's not that. They do, but they’re not the magic money machines that many people think they are. The reality is a little bit more complicated, and you have to really look at the long-term and count on the blockbusters. A very good article on this subject is “Black Swan Farming” by Paul Graham. The article illustrates this very well, but remember that Y-Combinator is a very special case in that they accelerate far more startups than a typical accelerator usually in very developed growth stage; the logic of the article is therefore focused on a much larger sample size.

HOW SHOULD I DESIGN AN ACCELERATOR?

When designing an accelerator, the tip is, don’t just create another copy of Y-Combinator or Techstars. Choose a concept; think about what makes it different. Include your beliefs and values, and study methodologies, trends, and the culture of your country.

The second tip is, focus on a theme. By focusing on a theme, you will be able to attract better startup candidates, choose more appropriate mentors, and come up with a more personalized program structure. Avoiding generalities is critical to success in the business world, and the same applies to your accelerator.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY AN ACCELERATOR FOCUSED ON A THEME?

For the Accelerator the O.A.P. emerged from, we decided to be a multi-thematic accelerator by choosing a different theme for each acceleration round because we believe that trends and technology are changing with increasing speed.

Our first program was based on the theme of “mobile first,” and we had great success in:
1. Attracting startups that were developing mobile products;
2. Attracting mentors with extensive experience with this market/technology;
3. Designing a program with workshops geared towards the challenges associated with creating a mobile startup, including iOS and Android development.

Another point that plays an important role in the design of accelerators is the values that you will use as the basis for your business strategies. Values help in various aspects, including how you present yourself to the market, how you select your startups, how you structure your program, select your mentors, etc.

HOW DO I CHOOSE A THEME?

The choice of the theme need not only be based on a technology, such as mobile. It can also be based on:
_a customer segment: middle class, base of the pyramid, B2B, etc.;
_a type of business model: lead-generation, freemium, crowdsourcing, etc.;
_an industry: education, healthcare, infrastructure, etc.

The theme can be a mixture of several of these as well. For example, the theme of our second program is “Mobile B2B,” mixing mobile technology with the corporate customer segment. We decided on this theme because we believe that mobile technology is still undergoing a massive explosion in demand throughout the world, but the B2B market so far has not profited from the innovations of the startup ecosystem, still suffering from the products of outdated software companies without a second thought for UX. In addition, the growing trend in worker mobility means that solutions for this “mobile workforce” are more and more in-demand.

Other tips to help you choose a theme:
1) Ask large companies – they possess a clear vision of the market and know what types of technology have growing demand;
2) Ask angel investors and VCs – they also tend to keep an eye on trends and large markets with unsolved problems.

Additionally, the groups cited above are also potential startup investors or buyers, which will help you strengthen your exit strategy in the long-term.

HOW DO I CHOOSE A PROGRAM COORDINATOR?

To manage an accelerator it is essential to choose people with a track record in the startup ecosystem. This is a crucial factor because the startup culture has a dynamic that not everyone understands.

Another important aspect is that the coordinator should preferably be well connected and have good networking among entrepreneurs, investors, the government, etc., because this broad base of contacts will become the group of mentors and supporters that the accelerator depends on.

The coordinator responsibilities include – mentor relationship management, scheduling workshops, mentoring sessions and presentations, mentor logistics, feedback from the startups and mentors about the quality of the workshops

SHOULDN'T WE HAVE SUPPORT SERVICES FOR THE STARTUPS AS WELL?

Steve Blank writes that “startups are not a small version of a large company. Startups are high-risk businesses seeking to fit their solutions with a market need.” However, all the work done to help this validation is done by mentors, by means of knowledge transfer and by “hands-on” exercises.

That said, you problably understand that supplying shared services, that should be part of the core business of the startups, is not a good idea. In other words, never offer services like design, development, and marketing/sales for your startups. This is one of the worst ways to shoot yourself in the foot because it creates a relationship of service provider x clients (which is not the right relationship to be established between the accelerator and the startups), as well as creating a dependency that makes the post-acceleration phase more difficult.

Imagine these two scenarios:
i. Let’s say the accelerator’s designer has developed a new interface for a startup whose three founders are programmers, and two don’t like the new interface. I don’t even need to continue this story because you can see where it ends, right? Headaches, delays, etc.
ii. Your startups have reached the end of the acceleration, and after a successful demo day, at least one has raised funds to live another year, in a real office with a complete team. Now imagine that this startup used your programming and design resources, and the two partners now have to hire their own programmers and designers to continue developing the product roadmap and scale up. How much time will it take to find these professionals? How much longer will they need to adjust to code written by others? And to figure out the brand concept and UX development? See how complicated it can be?

The only types of services worth offering are services commonly outsourced by companies and that the startups should also continue to outsource after the acceleration program. These are services like legal and accounting advice and cloud software/services.

SHOULD I ESTABLISH PARTNERSHIPS?

Yes, there are three types of services that could be done with high-quality trusted partnerships with a free or discounted value model, since the startups tend to establish a business relationship with these providers after the acceleration program.
_Legal advice – spare no efforts in hiring the best and most specialized office in your region. This is one type of service capable of eliminating the largest number of risks that a startup encounters during its entire investment life.
_Accounting services – look for well-established offices that have an extensive portfolio of clients in the tech area. Well-managed taxes are crucial to reducing costs and eliminating due diligence problems.
_Computing services and Software in the Cloud (AWS, Sendgrid, Heroku, etc.) – these are some of the easiest partnerships to establish because accelerators are usually sought by technology providers. However, you should carefully curate the partnerships that you establish. Test the tools before making them available to the startups. Avoid simply partnering with famous names as well because many newcomers also offer excellent tools.

Among your partners you should also have:
_Other Accelerators
_Incubators
_Investors

Partnering with similar or complementary entities is fundamental to the continued sharing of experiences and thus further improving the startup ecosystem. In this universe there is no competition, only coopetition. Everyone can learn something from everyone else, and the startups only benefit from this.

The ecosystem is much more open than many imagine. Most of the entities around the world are willing to receive you and teach you what they know. You should do the same.

WHAT ABOUT SPONSORSHIP?

That's another great thing to go after! But it takes time, and it's not as easy to get as you think.

IS THERE ANY SOFTWARE TO HELP RUN AN ACCELERATOR?

Here is a short list of software that you can use to run self-organized accelerator:
_Google Apps – Crucial tool for managing the schedule and sharing with all of the startups, as well as offering a reliable email and shared documents with multiple editors
_Dropbox – Best way to share a large variety of files, including presentations of workshops, photos documenting the program, etc.
_Facebook Group – The best way to share news and links with the startups. Better than an email group because it takes advantage of frequent use of Facebook
_f6s – An excellent tool for managing the enrollment of applicants to the program, as well as offering several other benefits packages for software, as well as document templates
_Angel list – Fundamental for knowing the average valuation among different types of startups, as well as managing relationships with investors
_Dashboard.io – Great to have as a reference for indicators in the startup market
_Eventbrite – The best way to invite guests to your Angel Day, Launch Party, and Demo Day

WHAT IS THE RECOMMENDED BASIC INFRASTRUCTURE FOR THE CO-WORKING SPACE OF AN ACCELERATOR?

The necessary structure is simple: a co-working space with many tables, many whiteboards, and some meeting rooms.

The co-working format of the office is extremely important to encourage collaboration and include everyone in the working culture. There are accelerators that don’t have co-working spaces and believe that they only create distraction, an opinion with which I fully disagree. Co-working spaces are able to create proximity between the teams that, in addition to permitting an exchange of experiences, generates a mild competition for results, since these are also shared and compared.

Make the internal decoration a differentiator uniting creative and colorful elements with an environment that feels like home, letting everyone feel comfortable staying there as long as they want.

Everyone should have a key and the alarm code, allowing them to work in the co-working space early in the morning, late at night, and on weekends.

WHAT’S THE STARTUP IDEAL TEAM?

Brad Feld writes in his Startup Life book that when investing in a startup, you should choose people instead of ideas. That’s a common opinion that should also be used when choosing startups to participate in the acceleration program.

The ideal team is formed by three people:
Hacker – Technology, makes sure it works
Hustler – Business, makes sure it makes money
Designer – Design, makes sure it servers the user

HOW DO I HANDLE STARTUPS IN DIFFERENT DEVELOPMENT STAGES?

In both programs ran with O.A.P., handling startups in different stages was not a problem. Actually advanced startups were greatly benefited by early-stage workshops, such as design thinking, as they improved efforts to understand customers and design better solutions.

WHAT’S THE ANGEL DAY FOR?

The Angel Day takes place about three months after the program’s start and has the objective of placing a deadline for product launch and helping startups raise a little bit of money (about USD $50,000) to spend only at customer acquisition.

Before the Angel Day the O.A.P. is pretty much focused on qualitative learning methodologies. After it the O.A.P. focuses on quantitative learning methodologies that need a good volume of users to produce nice results.

WHAT ABOUT THE LAUNCH PARTY?

As said in the previous question, the Angel Day is a good deadline for product launch, and this should be celebrated!!! The Launch Party is also a good way to tell the market (friends, partners, journalists, etc.) that startups now have a live product available.

FAQ 4

Questions for Those Who Want to go a Bit Further on the History Behind the O.A.P.

WHY WAS O.A.P. CREATED?

Startups are not only hard, they’re messy. If you’ve had the chance to go through the process of creating or mentoring one you know how chaotic it is. There are so many possibilities, doubts, alternatives, and opinions that founders have to deal with.

What are the priorities? Which decisions should we make? Which hypothesis should we test? The answers to these questions change so fast that it’s pretty hard to know where you’re heading.

You might say, “Oh, we’re using lean startup to solve this,” or “Here, we are going through the customer development steps.” But, let’s be honest with each other: Are you really?

Although such methodologies are of great help, we have to face the fact that most of us are not actually implementing them at all. And even worse is that those methodologies by themselves are not enough to solve the mess.

Specially, if you are running a Startup Accelerator, dealing with many startups at the same time, such program is not needed, it's a must!

And that's why the Open Acceleration Program was created - as a framework to help Accelerators take startups from inertia to good growth speed.

The OAP presents one of the possible ways to set up and execute an acceleration program. Not the only one.

WHO CREATED IT

Daniel Pereira, a Brazilian entrepreneur.

ALONE?

No, he had a lot of support from great people. Speacially from Bruno Azisaka and Aloisio Moraes.

WHERE DID IT COME FROM?

In 2012, Daniel was invited to cofound an Accelerator in Brazil and was faced with the challenge of creating an acceleration program for it.

When he first started researching startup accelerator programs, he did not find much information about how they worked. But the little information he did find showed me that there isn’t really a “program.” Most accelerators consider their startup accelerator programs a mix of mentoring sessions in the first months and intense pitch practice at the end of it as a preparation for the Demo Day. Well, he doesn’t believe that’s a good way to accelerate startups at all. Somehow, the OAP is a response to the pitch industry.

Daniel has been working with startups since 2002, and his experience has shown that startups need to have their development and priorities organized or they end up resulting a big mess followed by failure.

OAP is a framework where such organization/prioritization can be achieved.

WHAT HAPPENED TO DANIEL'S ACCELERATOR?

It was closed down after two years due to Partner/funding problems. :(

WHO WAS THE O.A.P. CREATED FOR?

If you are a leader who wants to change the world and knows that young people and their startups are the fastest and most efficient way to do that, the O.A.P. was created for you.

But don't use it if you think that a startup accelerator is an opportunity to make a lot of money by investing a small amount (as many think it is). An Accelerator isn't the fastest way get equity from a lot of startups and sell it with big returns based on unexplained valuations. That's not what we all should go after.

As with any other startup, creating a Startup Accelerator is hard. Very hard. But, at the same time, it’s one of the greatest tools to improve our world by helping entrepreneurs turn their dreams into a scalable reality.

The main idea the propose of O.A.P. is that in order for an accelerator to achieve success you need a well-structured acceleration program with the correct use of methodologies, values, and principles.

Without a program, the majority of accelerators and their startups are subjected to luck. And unfortunately, most don’t have enough of it.

WHY SHOULD I BELIEVE IN THE O.A.P. TO RUN MY ACCELERATOR?

Well, that's a trick question. In fact, you don't have to. You can have it as a simple reference to create your own program. At least the world now has one open acceleration program to consult (or a very good bookmark of links).

Daniel decided to share it because he believes we have something big going on in the world, and startups are one of them. Accelerator are definitely a great drive force of successful startups.

Use it as you wish. Create many other accelerators as possible and go beyond the tech industry. Create accelerators of retail business, of logistics, of schools, of industry, of services! Do it all. Change the world for the best!

DO I HAVE TO PAY TO USE O.A.P.?

Not at all. We just kindly ask that if you really use it, put the O.A.P. logo on your website with a hyperlink or mention at your institutional presentations.

OK, GOT IT! I REALLY ENJOYED AND WANT TO RUN IT! WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS?

Pretty simple: Go and do it! You will never understand it all until you run a complete program. So go and do it! And if you still have questions/doubts about it, send an email to help@openaccelerationprogram.com

HOW CAN I HELP IMPROVE THE O.A.P.?

You can help by:
_ Proofreading this content
_ Translating it to other languages
_ Recommending additional high-quality tools and content
_ Creating a new version of the Program (i.e.: mobile program, clean-energy program, hardware program, etc.)
_ Improving this website
_ Creating an online tool (to replace the Excel spreadsheet) and uploading it to Github

Just send an email to help@openaccelerationprogram.com telling how you would like to help.

Thank you!