Every first quarter of the year, we interview hundreds of entrepreneurs applying for the GrowthAfrica Accelerator. Some founders apply to our programme fresh out of another accelerator. Some, while still taking part in an accelerator. And some have been to three or more accelerators already. This phenomenon cuts across the Entrepreneurship support ecosystem, as revealed at an ANDE West Africa workshop recently held in Accra.
Ecosystem players are working to tackle this issue through an integrated entrepreneurship value chain. This value chain will enable founders to examine available support organizations and what they offer. It will also entail a database of small and growing businesses, their founders, and all the programmes they have participated in, including funding raised. It is overwhelming for founders to receive calls, emails, and forwards about different accelerators, each promising to catapult their business to the next level of growth and unlock unimagined potential.
According to a Universal Journal of Industrial and Business Management publication, accelerators increase the odds of a startup’s survival by around 25%. A study titled ‘Do Accelerators Work? If So, How?’ by Benjamin L. Hallen (the University of Washington — Department of Management & Organization) et al. also showed that in three of the four cohorts they studied, accelerator companies raised 47% to 171% more investment funding in the two to three years following the accelerator experience. However, the more accelerators you join as a founder, the lower your perceived credibility as a business leader. It also raises the alarm about whether the business is viable. Before committing to an accelerator, consider taking the steps below.
Know what you don’t know!
Conduct entrepreneurial skills and knowledge audit based on your strategic plan for the next three to five years. You can use a simple SWOT analysis framework. This audit will allow you to unearth current gaps. Analyze any previous accelerator programmes you have attended.
How have you applied the learnings? Have you exhausted the support from the said programme? Is there enhanced clarity, operational efficiency, and an increase in revenue? Are your sales machinery, team, and cash flow more robust? How does your partnerships portfolio look? Are you ready for new markets? Knowing what you do not know will help you weed out accelerators that fail to address these gaps, regardless of the name behind the programme.
Identify the best match!
Do not jump to apply to every programme you see advertised. Research into the Entrepreneurial ecosystem and match the offerings to your most significant gaps. Which organization ticks most of the boxes? Speak to other entrepreneurs who have gone through the same accelerator. What were their experiences? What can they say for sure that you will get out of the programme? Most accelerators will take a period of 3 months to 6 months. Weigh the opportunity cost of spending time accelerating instead of working directly in and for the business. You can check out the Ghana Tech Lab’s Ghana Startup Ecosystem Portal or ANDE West Africa’s Ghana ecosystem snapshot as a start for various accelerators in Ghana.
Draw a roadmap!
There is a high likelihood that one accelerator may not meet all your growth needs. In this case, draw up a roadmap using your gaps as checkpoints. Start with the programme that will address the most critical gaps. Ensure to include implementation breaks between accelerators (if you must be part of more than one). Ideally, this break should not be less than one year. Use this to showcase the direct benefits of the accelerator on your business. Your roadmap should also build up to more significant and more impactful accelerators. Starting with a local accelerator, you can move to a regional accelerator and then an international one like Y Combinator.
Document the process!
Think of this as journaling for your business. Take stock of what you are gaining and be intentional about the progress and learnings. Note down what is still lacking. Extract all possible benefits from the accelerator you chose. Keep a record of achievements directly attributable to the accelerator programme during your implementation phase. Documenting can take any form. For inspiration, I recommend watching Jeen-Yuhs, a video documentary spanning 21 years on Kanye West’s journey to becoming a legendary entertainment entrepreneur.
Evaluate your ROTI!
Evaluate your Return on Time Invested. Time is money. Treat the time you spend in an accelerator as an investment that you measure clearly. Consider an evaluation matrix that covers impact, innovation pipeline, market traction, the financial health of the business and any other key markers for your business. Once you establish a clear direction for your business, enjoy the acceleration journey and build relationships that will outlast the accelerator programme.
Article by: Leah Nduati, Growth Catalyst, GrowthAfrica