Attracting and selecting the right entrepreneurs for your incubator or accelerator program.

On 21st June, Frontier Incubators launched the first in a series of webinars to connect leaders from global accelerator and incubator programs with program managers who are seeking to serve entrepreneurs in the Asia-Pacific. Key insights from the session include the value of alumni as ambassadors, partnering with other programs, creating mutually beneficial partner arrangements, the potential of sector specific cohorts, the importance of program partner selection, ongoing application opportunities, incentive structures, and the significance of clear selection criteria.

Incubators

28.06.2018

Read on below for the top strategies from global leaders, Akina Foundation, Invest2Innovate, Kinara, Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Uncharted, Village Capital, and Villgro.

To see the full conversation, you can view the video here.
We have three more webinars coming up, and you can register here to learn more.
Apply for Frontier Incubators via our website before July 31st.

Key insights and top strategies for success

1. Alumni serve as your best ambassadors

As Kalsoom of Invest2Innovate shared, as an enterprise support program, your alumni are going to be your most powerful resource in attracting the right candidates. (Click to tweet) Word of mouth is a powerful tool, and provided you are adding value to the enterprises going through your program, alumni who can speak directly to the experience will be the best at attracting your ideal applicants. Pamela of Miller Center explained that they use the Net Promoter Score to see how willing alumni would be to recommend the program. They have found that approximately one-third of their applications come from alumni referrals.

2. Partner with other programs to serve as feeders into your accelerator

Many programs operate cohorts that serve a specific stage of company. If you know that your value add is go-to-market strategies for enterprises that want to scale a product or service — then you can use resources like the Accelerator Selection Tool. This public resource finds other programs or business plan competitions in your region that serve earlier stage companies. Having a referral system where a program can nominate ventures to your program can also help streamline your outreach. As Banks of Uncharted shared, to do this successfully you also need to be clear on your value proposition and who the program is best for.

3. Provide two-way value with your partners

As Fajar of Kinara described, partnerships with state owned businesses, universities, and co-working spaces can be critically important when working in a region that does not have a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem. If you are asking these organisations to nominate enterprises for your program — make sure you are returning the favor. By serving as a mentor for local incubators or competitions, you are investing in the development of your own pipeline. (Click to tweet) Pamela of explained how they use “discovery partners” with fellowships and foundations like Echoing Green and Skoll Foundation who work with the kinds of entrepreneurs Miller Center is best poised to serve.

4. Sector specific cohorts may be right for you

Paul Basil of Villgro discussed the benefits of running sector specific cohorts to build the targeted relationships you need — with mentors, investors, and advisors. You can also partner with investors who see companies that are not quite ready for investment. This is one of the ultimate value adds you can provide to the investor because you will be de-risking their pipeline companies and improving their investment opportunities. Uncharted has a core focus on running cohorts that solve a specific problem, and in doing so, enhance the experience of the founders as they gain value from peer mentorship and collaboration.

However, Kalsoom cautioned- the benefits of sector/theme specificity can depend on your market, and its level of development, as “Sector specific didn’t work for us in Pakistan.” If you apply too narrow of a focus you will reduce your pipeline and fail to recruit a cohort that can really benefit from your curricula.

5. Select your program partners thoughtfully

Heather from Village Capital emphasized that partner alignment is HUGE. If you are partnering with a government agency, corporation, or local investment network for your program, invest upfront to ensure the alignment is there. Be clear on what you and your team will be able to own in the process. If you give up control over the selection process and composition of the cohort, you may end up with a group that cannot benefit the most from your program.

6. Selection is a year round activity

Do not wait until you have an application process opening up to start promoting your program. Fajar of Kinara highlighted the benefits of having two stages in the application process — a shorter online form with standard questions about their business, and a more extensive application for those who meet the selection criteria which incorporates the questions needed for the Global Accelerator Learning Initiative research process. Banks also shared that “we’ve often rushed selection and not done proper due diligence so give yourself plenty of time to do selection so you can do the proper vetting.” Paul shared that Villgro does significant due diligence on any company accepted to the Villgro program, and a Senior/Junior team can assess two companies per quarter.

7. Build the right incentive structure

Eva of Akina Foundation described how not charging for their program can create a lack of commitment. As a result, they now require a deposit to be placed and a commitment letter to be signed by all participants to encourage them to fully engage in the program. Pamela shared that Miller Center had to shift it’s application questions and selection criteria as they looked more closely at why some founders were not able to stay engaged through the whole program. As Pamela said, “We need to see at least 6 months of runway to know they can go through our program without being distracted by fundraising.” (Click to tweet).

Incentive structures exist at many levels of the program, and Paul shared that Villgro has used a variety of financial incentives to support their program. The combination of equity and showing to investors has now been shifted to pursuing revenue share agreements with the companies going through their program.

8. Have clear selection criteria

Being clear on your value proposition and what your program excels at will also inform your selection criteria. Guy Redding of Akina Foundation shared,

Applicants are chosen based on the following criteria: quality of team, actual or potential impact, growth potential and alignment to the accelerator. ‘Coachability’ is also an important factor. We’ve sometimes used ‘Warm up days’ as a way of getting to know applicants and whittling down a short-list to the final list.

Kalsoom echoed this asking “do the founders take constructive criticism?” The coachability of a founder may make the difference in whether or not they are open and able to benefit from the feedback and advice they receive from your program. It can also help to include alumni, investors, and mentors as judges in the selection phase so that they can weigh in and help you construct a cohort where they can really add value.

We hope the webinar series has sparked your interest in Frontier Incubators program.