Compared to a decade ago, there’s never been more support for emerging founders in the Australian startup ecosystem.
But where once scarcity was an issue, now a new problem has emerged: too much choice. There are hundreds of startup support programs and accelerators out there — all of which are aimed at growing businesses and helping create Australia’s next unicorn.
To help founders out, I’ve come up with four categories for accelerator programs, and offered some brief insights on each, based off my experiences going through similar programs with Carbar and other startups.
General accelerators — Startmate, Y-Combinator, Techstars
These programs are generally run by either separate companies or venture capital firms.
Aside from access to veterans in the startup community, many of their applicants benefit from prestige and history tied to these programs. They are among some of the best-known in the industry and are well-known among funders and the broader ecosystem. These can be a great choice if you are after a profile for your company.
University-based accelerators — MAP, 10X, INCUBATE
These programs and run and funded by universities. Some have a focus on commercialising research, others have a broader remit. For instance, in the past few years, Melbourne Accelerator Program shifted its focus to impact-based companies.
Generally speaking, these accelerators are well-resourced but can be at the whims of funding decisions from the university running them. They are an excellent choice for companies who can benefit off broader university-based resources, such as access to researchers or test labs.
Industry-based accelerators — MedTech Actuator, Sprout X
These accelerators only accept startups that address problems within a specific industry. They can be incredibly helpful in terms of helping their founders make key connections in their given sector and in helping your business manage business growth problems that are unique to your sector. You also get the added bonus of getting to meet other founders in your industry, which can be rare in other accelerators.
The only downside to them I’ve encountered is that they can have preconceptions as to how your sector works. This can be a challenge to navigate if you are building a company that aims to racially disrupt your given industry — or an advantage, depending on how you look at it.
Many of these programs stopped operation ahead of the pandemic, and haven’t resurfaced since. However, they are worth mentioning in case a few come back into operation.
These accelerators programs are run by larger companies often with a goal of investing or partnering with the startup at the end of it.
Landing deals with larger companies can be a key challenge for startups, and these programs can provide a clear pathway towards achieving this goal. They also provide founders with great contacts in larger companies.
A word of advice: The greatest benefit from these accelerators are the outcomes generated by them. It’s worth double-checking whether the goal of the corporate running the accelerator aligns with your own. Are they looking for investment opportunities? Partners? You should know this going into the program.
Some final advice
While there are plenty of programs out there, it’s worth noting that some of more well-known ones are still flooded with applications on a yearly basis. So understanding that program before applying and getting to know the experts running it could put you in good stead to get a look in.
Also, take it from a founder who has been through four of them: Accelerator programs are only as useful as the thought and strategy that you put into leveraging them.
While many programs have moved away from in-person events and mandatory office time since the COVID-19 pandemic, they can still distract the founders from focusing on their business. Picking the right kind of accelerator is the first step in ensuring it contributes towards growing your business rather than burning your time.
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