One of the many ways in which CIIE supports entrepreneurs is through its various “startup accelerator” programmes – in fact, CIIE launched India’s first-ever accelerator (iAccelerator), back in 2009. CIIE’s accelerators come in many flavours. Sector-specific programmes focusing on ICT, cleantech, water tech, food & agri, sustainable mobility, and healthcare, allow for depth of inputs during the course of the programme. Sector-agnostic programmes, like the Power of Ideas, or regional programmes like the Gujarat Accelerator bring together large segments of the ecosystem on one single platform, to create a whole larger than the sum of the individual parts.
What is an accelerator? An accelerator is a programme to enable startups to go from “idea” to “product” or “market” stage, usually over a fixed time period and as a group (or “cohort”). This is usually achieved by putting in place a structured curriculum, along with a combination of funding and mentoring or other in-kind support. Over this period of time, accelerator programmes build a community of like-minded startup teams, who work individually on their respective businesses and culminate in a ‘demo day’ or similar pitch event.
With the plethora of accelerator programmes that are now seeking out good startups, entrepreneurs now have a lot of options to choose from. So which accelerator programme should they apply for? What really is the value that a good accelerator programme brings? We spoke to a few of CIIE’s accelerator participants and alumni, to see what they’ve learned from our programmes.
“We had just started testing our product in the market at that point. We had a good idea of what we wanted to achieve but we needed a good sounding board to evaluate the options before us and validate our overall business approach,” says Bhanu Mahajan of KiviHealth, an emerging startup in the electronic health records space, and part of CIIE’s Gujarat Accelerator in 2015. Mentoring, industry connects, validation and seed capital are typically the top reasons why entrepreneurs choose to apply for an accelerator programme. So before applying to one, entrepreneurs need to be clear about what they need at that point in their journey, and based on that, which programmes check all of their boxes.
More than anything, a good accelerator functions as a test bed for startups to validate their business assumptions. “As an early stage company, it is very easy to get lost trying to do/ control too many things at once. The mentors at the accelerator helped us stay on course by charting the right metrics and methods to validate the assumptions,” says Arvind Krishnaswamy of corporate transportation solutions provider HopOn, part of the cohort for the New Mobility Accelerator in 2016. Bhanu from KiviHealth chips in, “The accelerator definitely gave us a lot more clarity on our business approach. The numerous meetings with mentors and investors were very useful as we were able to transition from high-level, strategic questions to discussing the nuances of our business. “
The other major benefit cited by entrepreneurs is the potential to build connections. “Network hard!” says Ashwath MP of KineMach, an agritech startup. “Connections are the key which are going to open the doors. Just find out people who are helpful to you, always keep more than one person useful to you connected with you always since everybody may not be interested or will have time to support you.”
At the end of the day, the best of programmes can only deliver as much value as an entrepreneur can leverage from them. “Select a program that gives you intellectual stimulation, as opposed to just money and infrastructure alone,” says Bhanu, “because ultimately the people you work with in an accelerator will influence your business decisions. Look for accelerators that offer in-person mentoring and a high degree of involvement.” Building up a business is never easy, and especially so in its early days. Entrepreneurs frequently cite a good, structured approach as going a long way in helping pick the right growth path. HopOn’s Arvind was clear on this front: “No matter how innovative your team is, never ignore tried and tested methods. Respect the metrics and follow it divinely. Utilize the accelerator network to the fullest for early stage business development.”
At the end of the day, an “accelerator” is just that – a focused platform to take your company to a faster growth path. KiviHealth’s Bhanu has the last word – “Build a really strong founding team. Be aggressive in utilizing funds, especially when the trade-off is between money and time. Remember the opportunity cost of starting up, and keep growth a priority. Any meagre savings that come at the cost of time (and growth) are usually not worth it. Spend money as needed on in expanding team and increasing sales to reach your goals.”
Article written by: Rohan Choukkar, CIIE