How to find startup investors
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Startup trailblazers and soon-to-be founders, ever wondered if joining an accelerator is your express ticket to growth? Or if a bootcamp could be your secret weapon for upskilling fast? And what exactly is the difference between accelerators, incubators and bootcamps?
There are so many courses, programmes and resources out there promising to help you launch and grow your business, it can be difficult to know what to choose. Given the potential importance of your decision to join (or not join) an accelerator, incubator or bootcamp, we’ve put together this guide to help you. And after you’ve read this, take a look at our guide to the top UK startup accelerators
Picture this: a jackpot of resources, access to funding and mentors, a VIP pass to a buzzing network of industry maestros. Your startup earns a golden stamp of credibility and you’re hobnobbing with investors and potential partners and customers.
Choose the right programme and that could be you. Startup accelerators, incubators and bootcamps are growth catalysts, helping propel your company forward faster than you ever dreamed.
But before you rush to sign up, let’s take a look at the flipside. Many programmes take an equity stake (or ask for the option to take equity) so you’ll need to be prepared to part with a slice of your startup in exchange for joining. Accelerator life can feel like a high-stakes game, with ludicrous timelines and added pressure. Your freedom and autonomy as a founder could take a backseat to the programme’s rules. And of course, standards and success vary wildly. Choosing the wrong programme could turn out to be a set-back rather than a shortcut.
Accelerators and incubators offer mentorship, prestige and sometimes even investment capital to help you grow. Being a founder can be a high-stress and often lonely path, so an added benefit of joining a programme is you’ll be surrounded by a cohort of fellow founders going through the same journey as you.
A good accelerator will give you a support network, people to bounce ideas off of, a combined network and a place to share what works and doesn’t. Make sure you do your research thoroughly and join a programme that’s right for you and your startup.
Investor Partnerships Manager,
Sometimes you’ll hear the labels ‘accelerator’ and ‘incubator’ used interchangeably. What they offer can be similar but in general, accelerators and incubators differ in their focus, approach and the growth stage at which they support startups.
Usually, incubators prioritise nurture and support for very early stage companies, the ‘zero to one’ phase (from the expression popularised by entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel in Zero to One). You might already have an idea or be ‘pre-idea’, or be looking for a co-founder.
In contrast, accelerators usually emphasise rapid growth for startups in the ‘one to five’ phase: companies already in operation and aiming to scale.
For a summary, see the table below 👇
And how are bootcamps different from accelerators and incubators?
Adding to the support programmes available for startups, in recent years we’ve seen more startup bootcamps emerging. These are short-term programmes that aim to give you intensive training and mentorship to accelerate the growth of your company.
Startup bootcamps can appear similar to both accelerators and incubators but they differ because bootcamps usually focus on a specific topic or skill such as fundraising, scaling or preparing to join an accelerator.
Here’s a summary:
|Early-stage ideas or startups literally just starting up
|Early-stage startups already in operation, companies scaling up
|To guide you through the initial stages, helping you develop your ideas into viable businesses
To help you find and start working with a co-founder
|To help you scale your startup quickly
To prepare you for a demo day, where you pitch to potential investors or partners
|To rapidly upskill participants in a specific topic or skill such as product development, marketing or pitching
To prepare you for a specific task such as taking investment or joining an accelerator
|Usually offer longer-term support, sometimes over several years
|Usually short, lasting typically three to six months
|From a few days to a few weeks of intense learning
Not all accelerators are intensive, lengthy, full time programmes for small cohorts of selected startups. Our friends at Hotbed run free six-week lighter touch accelerator programmes to help founders expedite their growth to prepare for fundraising.
Perdie Alder, Co-founder and CEO of Spice Startups / Hotbed says:
“Hotbed programmes are delivered virtually and designed to be ‘low time commitment, high reward’. Our mission is to help you connect with the right people, stay focused on growth and prove you have the traction needed to fundraise. We know you need to spend most of your time building your business, so across five hours a week, we bring in seasoned founders, investors and domain experts who share insights, practical tips and best practice.”
“Hotbed programmes are free and cohort sizes are large (50+ founders). Some join after completing more intensive accelerators like Techstars. Cohort members take away more knowledge, many new connections, and access to a community of like-minded founders who they stay in contact with long after our programmes have ended. Find out more at hotbed.co“
Thinking about joining a startup accelerator, incubator or bootcamp? Here are some factors to consider:
To find an accelerator, incubator or bootcamp that’s right for you and your startup, nothing beats word-of-mouth recommendations. Ask your existing network for their tips, read reviews, ask your mentors and do plenty of research before you commit.
Before you join an accelerator, be clear on what you need. After completing an MBA, I founded Augnet and joined the university’s accelerator – because we needed the free office space!
Next, we took part in accelerators run by a global social network and by a UK high street bank. We were either being sold to, or being used to boost the accelerator’s PR. Not the best use of our time.
One benefit of joining an accelerator should be access to mentors. That happened for us when we were awarded an Innovate UK grant. The government matched us with high profile, senior people in our sector who were brilliant. Some of them are still with us as informal advisors and advocates.
More recently, we joined a PwC accelerator to prepare for our Series A. The PwC team worked hard with us on our pitch and their ‘seal of approval’ worked like a charm: over 50 VCs attended our pitch day.
I’d warn any founder against joining an accelerator asking for shares or cash. Be clear on what you need from the programme – and make sure that’s what you’ll get.
Founder and CEO,
When you successfully gain a place with an accelerator, the success of your business isn’t guaranteed. Here are five mistakes to avoid to make sure you gain as much as possible from your experience with the accelerator:
During and after your time with the accelerator, you’ll need to continuously learn and adapt to make your startup a success. Make the most of your time with the accelerator by proactively engaging with the community, clearly communicating what you need, and incorporating what you learn in your strategic planning.
If joining an accelerator doesn’t quite align with your plans, here are some alternatives to explore:
“Years ago, accelerators were a super valuable way to learn the craft of being a founder because there was hardly anything available on the internet. Now, there’s a huge amount of resources out there. Get started with SeedLegals articles, watch our videos and join our webinars.
“After you’ve educated yourself as much as possible, assess what you still need and decide if you can get that from an accelerator. For example, more connections, a co-founder or introductions to investors.”
“It’s important to find the right course that matches your skills (sector), matches your approach to work (culture), and surrounds you with likeminded people (fellow founders). Just as prestige universities can add kudos to your CV and open doors, there are prestige accelerators which can add polish to your pitch deck.
“Just as university isn’t the best path for everyone, many startups become successful without joining an accelerator. But choose wisely and they can help you get to the next level.”
Want more accelerator inspo? Check out our guide to top UK startup accelerators
Whether you’re hitting the accelerator, finding allies or embracing a solo journey, SeedLegals is here to support you. If you’re hiring a team, fundraising, sharing equity or need legal advice, we can help. To get started, take a look around our website or book a free call with one of our experts.