A-sake-that-stands-out-from-the-crowd

Accelerator: How to make your application stand out

After finalizing our 4th application process, I thought it might be a good idea to stop and think about the applications which were successful. What made the SigmaLabs Accelerator accept startups such as Shopic, Cast Plus, FlyMoney, OptimalQ, exceed.ai and the rest of the family? How come their applications stood out and made it in, while others did not?

* so far, our acceptance rate is a bit under 4%.

 

An important assumption to start this discussion

The SigmaLabs Accelerator selection process is long and has redundancies to avoid mistakes. Our selection committee is comprised of Israel’s top VC’s, Entrepreneurs, Corporate C levels & Tech gurus.

Despite the above, we are human, and therefore we make mistakes and decline great startups, CÉST LA VIE.

So, if it’s not enough to be the best startup, what should I do to increase my likelihood of acceptance?

 

The application process

 

OperationsFlowchartS
A typical application process

 

To answer that, take a short look at our application process (the full version of what our application process looks like can be found here)

  • First phase – an online application. A small team then rates the applications, leaving us with the top 25 startups.
  • Second phase – telephone interviews, and then there were 15…
  • Third phase – the interviews. Startups meet our selection committee face to face.
  • Fourth phase – selection, we choose between 4-6 startups to be in our next wave.

 

Every Accelerator has a different application process, but generally these three screening components will apply:

1. Online form

2. Phone call / Video call

3. F2F interviews

 

As a call and interview are hard to generalize (although that could be a good idea for a blog post on its own merit – what questions do accelerators usually ask founders?) I will focus this guide on the online form stage which ~99% of accelerators use.

 

So – How to make my online application stand out? (or in “click-bate” Jargon: 7 tips to make your accelerator application rock!)

Standing out

1. Answer every question

Answer with a thoughtful, spell-checked, flawless answer. If you take 5 minutes to answer the entire form, it makes you look unprofessional.

2. Idea = Problem + Solution

It’s that simple. Depict the problem you are about to solve and explain how your solution will solve it. Many founders get distracted by the other attributes of a startup when explaining their venture (competitors, team, industry trends, customers etc.), be sure to be precise.

3. Make it personal – tailor made

There is nothing that catches the eye more than the simple things; naming the attachment “For SigmaLabs Accelerator – Jan 2017 pitch deck” or explaining that after talking to the CEO of a startup which graduated from SigmaLabs you believe we can really help you since you have a similar bottleneck in the business he had.

Tip: Sometimes you might have uploaded a video to F6S (The system many programs use to filter applications) of you applying to Techstars –> that video is attached to your profile…not your application. I highly recommend making a personal video for every application, making sure it does not “continue” with you, these sorts of things make the application feel very impersonal.

4. Read about the program – make sure you apply to a program that fits

Many Accelerators have certain criteria and if the startup does not fit it’s a waste of air & computing power typing up the application. For example, at SigmaLabs we do not accept teams without technical capabilities. We don’t have many rules set in stone but this is indeed one of them. Other accelerators, for example IBM Alpha Zone – require startups to register for their cloud solution – so if you have no intention of doing so…. don’t bother.

5. Show that you really did your homework

When answering the form, show how well you know your industry, competitors, comparable business models etc. Do not assume we know your venture as well as you do. Writing up 4 direct competitors and 3 non-direct and explaining why you have a strong differentiation is a fantastic way to show you are top of your game!

6. Founders first

A good Accelerator (especially pre-seed) will always pick, all else equal, a stellar team with a mediocre idea instead of the other way around. Therefore, if you have strong backgrounds, experience in the field, and truly are tier 1 individuals then show it! Don’t be overly modest at the risk of your credentials being overlooked.

7. Ask a mutual connection to recommend you to management. It always helps

Like everything in life, if we get 10 e-mails from people we think highly of, saying “Person X is amazing, his venture is super interesting” it does have an impact. Will that alone get you in? Of course not, but it can’t hurt 😉

 

If you do not get accepted, part ways with grace

Even if you went through stages 1-7 and made your application stellar, there is a chance you will not get accepted. If you do get that e-mail, think carefully about your response. Don’t forget – “You can only lose your reputation once”, We sometimes see angry responses depicting how incredibly foolish we were not to accept a team or simply a demand for a meeting to explain ourselves. Let’s be clear, feedback is important! Always ask for feedback! That’s how you start the “build, measure, learn” loop. There is absolutely no harm in asking to get on the phone in order to understand why your application was unsuccessful, but do it with grace. Be polite and professional. Startups are globally a relatively small eco-system, the Israeli one is even smaller, so don’t make a bad rep for yourself from the get-go!

 

GOOD LUCK

 

Eran Bielski