Competition is natural. Whether in sports, studies or business, we always have to compete due to limited resources up for grab. Sometimes deciding winners is easy, in games, you collect more points than your opponent on the other side and you win. In certain competitions, it’s much more subjective and effectively a judgment call of one or few individuals. Assessment is much more qualitative in these cases. A familiar example for fellow students is research paper evaluation by professors. I heard a case when a student submitted the same research paper twice (1 year apart) to the same professor, first receiving A and the next time a B+, a big difference.
This can be frustrating and when the stakes are high, the failure can be much harder to deal with. Like someone judging your business proposal to see if it’s worth investing in. Depending on their judgment call, this may be a make or break for your entrepreneurial dreams.
10 years ago, at least in India, Incubators and Accelerators were not very well known. I remember discussing with one of my friend and manager at that time about a potential new business. A place where entrepreneurs could come together and get all sorts of help they needed. From developing their ideas, registering the company, accounting and legal help, market launch etc. And to have dozens of such centers all over the country. Loosely stated, that’s what incubators do. Few months ago, my friend Balazs I made a small presentation on incubators and accelerators, this will give you a very basic overview. Click here for the presentation.
Now every city worth its name in Europe has incubators and accelerators. It’s good business for the sponsors and a great platform for budding entrepreneurs. But over the years, competition has also increased many fold. Each of these incubators now get hundreds of applications for the limited places they have. So obviously if you want to take advantage of their facilities and network and give your startup better chances at success, you must be well prepared.
I applied for an incubator program with 2 other team members, we were invited to pitch but couldn’t make it to the final round. I learned a lot from this experience and would like to share some of the learnings with you.
Work hard on your product or service – There is no substitute to a good product
Spend time working on your product. Timing of when you apply to an incubator program is very important. If you apply for with just an idea, chances that the incubator will consider it are slim. And if you apply too late, probably it won’t add too much value for you.
So, polish your idea, work on your product or service to the point that it at least looks like a proof of concept.
Question and critic your assumptions – if you don’t, someone else will
Every aspect of your proposed solution and business case must be questioned. Ask your friends and business experts for honest feedback. Critic yourself.
Whether it’s about product features, its usability, market potential, business model, pricing, everything must be open for discussion and debate. It will help you refine your business case and also prepare you to answer questions of the jury.
Know your competitors – I mean the other teams applying for the same incubator
Not the competitors in the marketplace, you’ll address them anyway in your pitch deck or business plan. Try to find out who are competing for a place at the same incubator. Where does your startup stand in comparison? Do they all have a product prototype? Which stage of development are they in? Have they already received funding? I know most of it is very difficult to find out, but little research and your network can help get this information.
It makes a lot of difference if you try to pitch your prototype among peers who are already making money with their products or among peers who mostly just have an idea to offer.
Know the sponsors – The companies and people behind the incubator
The people or companies that setup these incubators are there either to make money or indirectly benefit their other businesses. Barclays Bank has setup an incubator to help FinTech startups, Deutsche Telekom has an incubator for startups in IoT etc. These companies may not ask for outright stake in your business but it gives them opportunity to look for new use cases of their technology and innovation that their internal teams probably couldn’t come up with.
If you know what the sponsors are looking for, you can better align your proposal with their goals and increase your chances of selection.
It’s about match making – not every startup is for every incubator and vice versa
There is no point for a startup in pet care to go to Barclays accelerator or a financial services startup to go to BuildIt. Do your homework to identify the right incubators for your startup. All incubators have good websites and enough information online about its target market, company portfolio etc. to allow you to make informed decision.
Tailor your pitch to the audience – Spend time to create your story and a great pitch deck
And the last point is, if you get a chance to pitch in front of the decision makers, remember, there may not be second chances. Give your best. No last night preparations as we did.
Create a story for your startup, the people behind, talk about the problem, solution, market potential, business model, what you already have and what you need.
And once again, since you already know your audience by now, tailor the pitch to tell them in a way they can quickly understand. You must offer something that benefits them.
I hope this advice will be useful to some, feel free to let me know any more ideas from your own experience or any other comments.