Incubator programs are designed to help startup organizations grow their business and become profitable. Some of the most popular startups have come from incubators, including Airbnb, Dropbox, Reddit, and many more. A typical program includes office space, early funding, networking events, exclusive mentorships from professionals across a variety of fields, and a Demo Day where startups pitch to potential investors. Once accepted into a program, this is a great way for startup founders to make new connections and to dedicate their time to creating a product.
However, some incubators are very difficult to get into, especially considering the rise of startups in the business world. For instance, within just seven years, Paul Graham’s Y Combinator program was valued at $7.78 billion, and is notoriously even more difficult to get into than Harvard. But this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to score an acceptance, and not all incubators have Ivy League-level acceptance rates. With that in mind, here are a few tips to heighten your chances of acceptance:
Have a Technical Co-Founder
Savvy, creative founders can take a business far, and there are many companies that have succeeded with a single founder. However, it’s important to understand that this is an exception and not the rule. Technical co-founder will help your business further along in terms of software; from website design to application development, having on-site technical support will prove instrumental in the growth of your business, especially in an increasingly competitive technological business field.
Technical co-founders know how to leverage a container registry, automate mundane processes, and use agile methodologies to prioritize programming projects. You can find technical founders by searching LinkedIn, asking for recommendations, or even heading over to the message boards found across many incubator sites.
Understand Your Value Proposition
Your value proposition is what sets you apart from other companies. If you’ve seen a few episodes of Shark Tank, you’ll quickly understand how and why many businesses get shut down simply because they do not solve a problem. Just because you have some traction doesn’t mean you’ll experience long-term success, or that there’s a serious need for your product or service. Use data and customer surveying to better understand whether your business can actually solve a problem—and whether that problem is something that needs to be solved right now.
Reach Out to Alumni
It may be in your best interest to reach out to previous alumni who have graduated from the incubator program that you’re interested in. Recent grads will likely be much easier to get in contact with, compared to successful companies who have graduated years ago. Many programs proudly list which companies have come in per class quarter, and you’ll likely find videos associated with those alumni companies, too. For instance, many programs publicize their Demo Days.
Send short and simple introductions telling them about your company and asking about their experience at that particular incubator. If the founder(s) had a great experience, they’ll happily recommend the program and offer advice on what you can do to improve your application. After you’ve talked to a few alumni, you can mention this in your application; it shows that you’ve done the groundwork, and are certain their program is right for you.
Understand Your Finances and Market
Before you apply to an incubator, you’ve got to have all of your ducks in a row, and you should have a thorough understanding of how your company operates from a financial standpoint. Even if your business is not yet profitable, you’ll still be required to understand your market and discuss how you can move into an area of profitability. The ability to talk finance and markets is a strong strategic asset, and incubators will take note of this.
Do Your Due Diligence
Every incubator has its own niche and areas of interests and expertise. For this reason, it’s important for you to search for the best incubators that align with your company, rather than just searching for the best incubators. Every program can bring different benefits to the table. For example, the popular incubator TechStars focuses on technology startups, while AngelPad is known for showing interest in B2B companies. Understanding what each incubator is looking for will help you heighten your chances of making it into that incubator.