Each founder’s startup story is unique. What leads someone to taking the first step to decide to start a business? For some it’s lived experience, for others it’s the magnetic draw of entrepreneurship. The one thing each founder has in common however is that feeling. The buzz that comes with sensing you have a brilliant solution to a wicked problem. But taking that early idea out of your head, heart and house into the ‘real’ world can be unnerving.
Thankfully, with such a booming startup scene in the UK and Europe, there are hundreds of programmes to help ease that transition. Incubator List reports that there are currently 220 accelerator programmes in Europe. Although, arguably, not all are created equal. Here are some top tips on the benefits of a good startup programme and what to look out for.
Benefits of joining a programme
A safe space to iterate
Startup programmes are often the first port of call for early-stage founders and for good reason. Just as every founder shares that feeling of excitement when they start shaping up their idea, there isn’t a single founder who will launch that idea without iteration. The unknown is the very nature of innovation. So to have the best chance at weathering those early days every startup needs a safe space in which to develop their product or service. Programmes are purposefully designed to provide exactly this type of environment.
You’re not alone
Launching a venture can be a very lonely place, but with over half a million new startups launched in the UK every year (that’s 77 founded every hour), there’s no reason for it to be. Often operating on the basis of a cohort model, programmes provide an immediate group of peers. At BGV we actively encourage founders to support and connect with each other throughout our programme and beyond. These cohorts can be even more beneficial the more diverse they are with each founder bringing different experience, skills and connections. In fact, what founders can bring to the portfolio community is something we actively assess at BGV when reviewing applications to our programme.
A stepping stone to other investors
Validation is key to startups in their early days. Being accepted by a highly-regarded programme can be one of the best ways to gain this. For those building businesses that will require VC investment, programmes are a great way to get a foot in the ‘proper money’ door. Each programme will have a varying degree of connection to other investors, but the good ones will have strong networks to both angels and early-stage VCs. Many of these investors will also use programmes as a source of ‘dealflow ’ - aka where they find ventures to invest in.
What to look out for
What happens after the programme ends?
As the startup scene has grown so has the range of programme models. One model that has emerged is the programme follow-on model. This is how we operate at BGV. All the companies we invest into must first join us via our programme, but we will then provide ongoing support and invest into the teams that grow according to our expectations. Finding a programme that does this can be a great way to bolster your chances of success at raising further funding.
You may want to apply to household name generalist programmes but it’s also worth thinking about the specialist expertise more focused programmes can bring. This could be according to your technology, sector or business model. At BGV, for example, we are sector agnostic but we have deep expertise in tech for good which is why we’re the go-to for startups building tech ventures solving a social or environmental issue. Our knowledge, connections and expertise in impact for early-stage ventures is unrivalled. So decide what type of support you would value most and identify programmes that can offer that.
Access to networks
Any founder worth their salt knows how vital networks are to them. We firmly believe no one should need existing networks or ‘warm intros’ to access programme support. However those programmes should act as a launchpad into those vital networks and communities. Look at a programme’s mentor roster, their portfolio community and any other signals such as their social media following or if they run any communities. A good programme will provide you with crucial introductions you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
While it can be tempting to try a number of different programmes, generally we would advise you to keep these to a minimum. Which is why it’s even more important to choose a good programme and the right one for you. Some startups might do one main programme then an industry specific one, which is fine, but there should be a good reason why you do more than one. If not, this can send the wrong message to potential investors that you don’t know how to move beyond the programme stage.
Apply before you think you’re ready
No early-stage idea is ever fully formed, and you shouldn’t wait until you think yours is to apply to a programme. We’ve had many founders reflect that they found the BGV programme application process hugely beneficial as an exercise in and of itself. Applying to a programme will force you to think about how you talk about your idea, demonstrate your early testing or traction and excite others about your vision. Even if you aren’t successful, depending on the stage that your application reaches, good programmes should provide meaningful feedback.
We know how thrilling yet terrifying those early days of launching a startup can be. But know that programmes are there to support you, give you a vital launchpad and help you grow. Reflecting on the BGV programme a first-time founder recently told us “you took me seriously, and for that I can’t thank you enough.” So if you have an idea that you think should be taken seriously, a programme might just be the right next step.
Find out more about BGV's programme for tech for good founders.