As a business owner, you don’t have to do it all on your own. There are many resources to tap into to help your business flourish. One way to do it? Join a business accelerator program.
The accelerator model started in the early days of Y Combinator, an American seed accelerator introduced in 2005. Since then, accelerator and incubator programs have popped up across North America more frequently.
We spoke with Jon French, Director of Marketing and Communications at Canadian accelerator program, NEXT Canada (formerly The Next 36). With him, we discussed the rising popularity of accelerators and how to make the most of it for your small business.
But First, Let’s Explore What a Business Accelerator is all About
By definition, “business accelerators provide advice, guidance and various forms of support for businesses in the startup phase.”
According to Jon, NEXT Canada has elements of both the accelerator and incubator models but with one common goal. “We believe in accelerating people, so most of our programs relate to the individual entrepreneur and accelerating them.”
The Components of an Accelerator Model
- Focuses on startups and new ventures
- Cohort-based and hosted over a fixed period
- Equity is typically collected by sponsors of capital
- Dedicated office space may or may not be provided
Resources to Really Help Your Business Accelerate
Joining an accelerator program will give you access to more than just the tangible items, like working space and access to printers or prototyping machines. You’ll also be able to flex your entrepreneurial muscles by attending networking events and workshops, managing capital and participating in founder education. “We give a business owner or founder a network,” says Jon. “We bring forth a really robust network that the participants wouldn’t otherwise have access to.”
And when it comes to funding, NEXT Canada provides its ventures with up to $50,000 in capital to help businesses get off to a running start. While not all programs provide direct funding, they do connect ventures with angel investors and venture capitalists who do.
“At NEXT Canada, we’ve got a fund called the Young Founders Fund,” Jon explains. “Our investment committee looks at all of the startups who apply, listens to their pitches and the milestones they’ve hit.”
At the end, the stronger teams receive more funding sooner. And as the program progresses, the funding amount for those ventures gets larger.
Above all, ventures with NEXT Canada are exposed to a robust founder development program.
“A lot of the people who start small businesses, especially in the tech space, may not have a professional business background,” says Jon. “You’ll learn the ins and outs of business among a group of peers who focus on the same challenges. You just won’t get that if you’re on your own and doing it by yourself.”
3 Ways to Make the Most of the Accelerator Experience
Accelerator programs are temporary—many are only a few months long per cohort. But while your time in an accelerator program may be short, the payoff shouldn’t be. Jon explains how to maximize your time in the program, as well as in the real world:
- Be ready to hustle: “When you’re here, it’s about finding out who’s going to be at an event, who you’re going to be pitching to and making a point to connect with those people in a meaningful way. The grads that excel the most are the ones who come to those events and aren’t afraid to ask questions.”
- Be willing to manage relationships beyond the program: “If the network was one of the things that attracted you to the program, then one of the ways you could make the most of your time out of an accelerator is staying close to that network once you’re done. You’ll build a web of connected business leaders—in our case, across the country.”
- Be engaged and pay-it-forward: “We have a formal alumni program. There, we encourage our grads to volunteer and pay-it-forward, as well as engage with the younger, small business owners. Paying it forward and staying connected to the larger community will allow you to give back a little of what you’ve received.”
Find the Accelerator that Works Best for You
According to Jon, we can expect the popularity of accelerators to continue to grow.
“Over the last 5 or 6 years, there’s been this proliferation of accelerators and incubators across the country,” he explains. “It’s gone from a handful to hundreds. While they all provide benefits, I think a small business owner should look closely at their current situation, what their business needs and compare it to the offering. All accelerator programs are similar, but the founder needs to find out what makes the most sense for him or her.”
If NEXT Canada is the program for you, Jon encourages Canada-based ventures to apply to be part of The Next 36’s 2017 cohort.