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6 questions to ask when considering a startup accelerator

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Accelerators can help change startups from unknowns to leaders in the industry, but does your startup need one and if so which one?

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When I’m advising startups, I often hear the question: “which accelerator is the best fit for me?” (Besides the obvious YC or Techstars.)

First off, I’ll ask if your company would benefit from an accelerator, or if you need to pursue something for early early stage companies before you achieve more market validation, like an incubator. (Side note: If you’re curious about incubators, here is a comparison of the two.)

If you’re new to these terms, here’s a brief recap on startup accelerators:

Startup accelerators are for companies with established co-founders and market validation – companies can be anywhere from pre-revenue/self-funded, or even have raised at least $1M.

Most programs can last anywhere from 10 weeks to 3-4 months. With many top accelerators like YC and Techstars, you’ll be expected to move to the city where it’s hosted and spend 40+ hours a week minimum in their dedicated coworking space, and several accelerators will often offer housing stipends to make the move easier. These programs typically conclude with a demo day to pitch your product to a variety of community leaders, angel, and institutional investors.

If your product has achieved market validation and is in a place where you’re ready to scale, congrats!

Before you commit to an accelerator, ask yourself and the program these six questions:

1. What kind of mentorship is available?

By and large, one of the most valuable portions of an accelerator is the networking with peers and mentors. Ask what kind of mentors are available to you as a part of a program, and ask their specific involvement and the opportunities to connect. These mentors will be crucial in guiding your company’s growth. Even if they aren’t in the same industry or have solved a similar problem that your company is trying to achieve, their advice and connections could prove to be invaluable.

2. What are the perks?

You’re giving up a lot of equity to be in a program, but it doesn’t come without its perks. Many programs offer not only a cash investment or stipend for housing or other growth costs, but programs like Techstars offer free services such as web hosting costs (an upwards of ~250k), legal and accounting services, and other credits and perks that can be worth 6-7 figures. Make sure you know what you’re getting before you say yes to a program.

3. Do I want an industry-specific or industry-agnostic program?

This one is important and is directly related to #2. If your company sells CPG products, web hosting credits may not be valuable to your business, but a CPG-specific accelerator like SKU or The Brandery with direct connections to Sephora, Target, and Whole Foods may make more sense.

4. How much equity am I willing to give up?

Try not to make this a guessing game and make as many data-driven decisions on this as you can. Create a revenue and valuation model and see how much your company would benefit from the networking, fundraising opportunities, and perks offered, and see what the ROI would potentially be.

5. What are the funding and exit numbers?

This is an objective way to view the success of an accelerator: # of funding raised and exits. Of course, younger accelerators will have smaller numbers, but it’s worth looking to see if a company has raised $ after. Seed-DB is a great resource to view these numbers for hundreds of accelerators globally.

6. What do alumni think?

All accelerators are going to tout the transformative experience that is their program, and program mentors will likely have a similar narrative.

The best resource to learn the real experience of an accelerator: ask its alumni, and they’ll give you the truth. Make sure to survey both recent and more experienced alumni, as they’ll be able to speak to both the short term and long term benefits.

Personal experience: the night before I was set to hear from an accelerator on my application status, two alumni stressed to me that the time and equity investment wasn’t worth it. I consider this providence!

Finally, two items to note:

Choosing an accelerator is all about finding the right fit between you and the organization. Sadly, not all accelerators are created equal, and try to view a potential relationship with an accelerator as an investor relationship, or better yet, dating. There’s a reason the phrase “no money is better than bad money” is prevalent in the startup community.

Make sure to do your due diligence and ask the right questions to make sure a specific program is worth the investment of time, energy, and equity.

And sometimes? That may not mean an accelerator is a right fit right now or at any point, and that’s okay.

Elise Graham Kennedy is a staff writer at The American Genius and Austin-based digital strategist. She's a seasoned entrepreneur, started and sold two companies, and was on a TV show for her app. You can usually find her watching The Office on her couch with her dog and husband.

Business Finance

COVID-19: Governors fail renters, a 90-day rent freeze is the only option now

Independent contractors whose only sin is renting instead of owning, are facing evictions even as Governors put tiny bandaids on the situation. A 90-day freeze is the nation’s only option to avoid mass migrations or spikes in homelessness.

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2020, it seems, is the year of rebranding—even when it comes to our impromptu recession brought on by a variety of factors (but largely thanks to COVID-19). Despite the negative connotations of widespread economic disaster, some people, such as St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard, are regarding this instance as “an investment in U.S. public health.”

Should we all be so optimistic? Bullard seems to think so.

To be fair, James Bullard’s “optimism” also accounts for taking a “$2.5 trillion hit” to the economy, so it’s not all sunshine and dancing unicorns (this time). However, the long-term outcome of handling this crisis correctly—a process which involves bailing out small businesses, matching wages, and contributing to rebuilding and supporting our healthcare infrastructure—will be, according to Bullard, positive.

Bullard’s optimism does come with an important message: As with pretty much anything, the simpler we can keep solutions to this problem, the better the outcome will be. We’re not off to a great start; between states’ varying responses to COVID-19 procedures and mixed congressional support for a stimulus package, the process of dealing with economic fallout has become more complicated than some—Bullard included—would consider “ideal”.

Unfortunately, there isn’t really an “ideal” outcome here that is also practical without requiring a heretofore unseen level of cooperation and cohesion between political parties and state-based cultures. In the event that we can actually pull together and actively invest, as Bullard suggests, in our infrastructure, the implications for our economy will ultimately be positive—even if only in a pyrrhic victory kind of way.

In unprecedented times of crisis—you know, like right now—a little bit of optimism doesn’t hurt. Over the course of the next few months, you’ll hear all sorts of different takes on the situation; some people—those who identify as “realists” but really just enjoy bumming people out—will actively speak out against positive attitudes, while others will avoid “getting their hopes up” because they don’t want to be disappointed.

But, if Bullard’s optimism is to be believed—and we’re choosing to think it is—you have full permission to let yourself hope, at least for now.

Remember, there are a couple of things you can do to bolster your immune system without medicine during this time. One of them involves keeping a positive outlook, and the other one is eating plenty of garlic; we’ve found that one accompanies the other.

This story was first published in our Real Estate section.

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Business Finance

Gov. Cuomo first to issue 90-day moratorium on commercial, residential evictions

(NEWS) NY Governor, Andrew Cuomo is the first state leader to put a halt to all commercial and residential payments in an effort to stem the COVID-19 crisis.

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New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo is the first state governor to put a moratorium on residential and commercial evictions in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, specifically hitting pause for 90 days in his state. This is part of a $10B relief package that includes utility payments missed during this outbreak as the state (and all states) are strained by the global pandemic.

This will not only help renters to find stable footing as so many have lost their jobs overnight, but commercial renters (like restaurants) that are worried about being evicted during a time that they were shut down by the government.

Reactions have mostly been positive, but many are still pushing for a freeze on rent, essentially rent forgiveness during this period since mortgage holders can roll their 90 days on to the end of their loan term, but renters cannot.

For many landlords, rent is their exclusive income and they have very few units, but they too will be under a mortgage freeze on their buildings under this Order, providing some relief. Not to mention Tax Day just moved from April 15 to July 15.

Meanwhile, a state group, Housing Justice for All, is calling for the rehousing of every homeless individual using emergency rent assistance and in vacant homes. They cite the risk of viral spread through the homeless shelter system, as well as viral possibilities among homeless people living on the streets.

There is no known answer in this time of being tested, but a freeze on rents and mortgages in New York will likely lead to other governors taking the same route, and renters might be able to breathe a little better soon, especially those who have lost their jobs and independent contractors whose business immediately died on the vine.

We’ll be watching for other states’ reactions to rents and mortgage payments.

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Business Finance

COVID-19: Self employed Texans get some relief benefits

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Self employed? Worried about the corona virus hurting your business? Texas says you’re STILL eligible for cash-related COVID-19 coverage!

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When I heard ‘It’s hard being your own boss’, I thought people meant employee reviews were harder to do since you have to carry both parts of a tough conversation in your home office.

Now, watching as self-employed artists, caterers, events specialists and more are struggling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the image is less ‘Ha!’ and more ‘AH!’.

It’s bad out there, y’all. And my heart goes out virtually, as per CDC guidelines. But in every viral cloud, there’s a colloidal silver lining. In the great state of Texas, that lining is: You’re probably eligible for disaster-based unemployment.

Yes, really!

Straight from the Texas Workforce Commission’s mouth: If your employment has been affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19), apply for benefits either online at any time using Unemployment Benefits Services or by calling TWC’s Tele-Center at 800-939-6631 from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Central Time Monday through Friday.

Now how does that cover the self-employed? Simple…kinda.

You’ll need to apply through the Disaster Unemployment Assistance and then take the extra steps of providing different proof than your 9-5 friends.

Firstly, you have to prove you’re self employed. If you’ve been paying you under the table, this is where the poop hits the fan, I’m afraid. The government will need things like (any given one of these): Insurance bills, business license, a recent ad, an invoice, or sales records.

Were you just about to start your own business when all this went down? Fortunately you’re covered too, so long as you have proof of prospective self-employment, say: The deed to a building you just bought, loan documents, ‘Grand Opening’ announcements, and so forth.

For the full list of documents that suffice, visit the TWC site directly and check what proof your pudding needs.

This situation is a Corona-cluster-cussword, but there’s help out there.

Reach out. Grab it. And then wash your hands.

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