In partnership with the Frontier Incubators Program, we will be hosting a series of webinars to discuss the video series created by Frontier incubators with our Accelerating the Accelerators Members group. Each third Wednesday of the month we will be discussing a different theme in depth based on the video series of the Masterclass. To find a full list of the videos that have been released, see their website. If you haven’t already been part of the webinar series with Conveners.org, please email sarah@conveners.org to be added to our calendar invites. 

During this edition of the Frontier Incubator Masterclass, we focused on discussing What are the key elements for finding and selecting a stellar cohort for your accelerator programs?

What ARE the key elements in selecting a stellar cohort?

  • Focus equals quality: The quality of the participants in your cohort is wholly dependent on the focus and organization of your program – if you know your key criteria and the type of entrepreneur and business model you are looking for, then you will be better able to find entrepreneurs that fit into the mission and vision of your accelerator program… “its a constant learning process. Lean-in and be constantly curious” (Pamela Rousous, Miller Center).
  • Be clear: If you are clear on what you are offering, the next step is to make sure you are communicating this on your website – helping entrepreneurs to self-select if they match your program requirements.
  • Vetting is key: Making sure you vet people based not only on what they need in terms of training, networks, and assistance but also in terms of the value-add they can bring to the program itself and to the peer-learning that happens within the cohort (Duane, SEED Spot).  
  • Creating value: Being clear on the value-add of your program versus going at it alone. Sometimes it’s hard to convince entrepreneurs that it’s worth their time and resources to join an accelerator program so you have to be sure that you can show them how your program is going to help them succeed in the long term. (Duane/Avary).
  • Clear Expectations: Setting clear expectations on what is expected by entrepreneurs in the program so that the entrepreneurs themselves know if they are good for the program or not. (Greg Brodsky, Start.com).

What is your “secret sauce” in selecting a stellar cohort?

  • Diversity: The diversity of any program is not only a reflection of the caliber of applicants in your program, but it also showcases the program itself.  Some of the levers you can pull to impact cohort diversity include how you reach out to potential applicants, what kind of questions are asked, and how you communicate the value they will receive from participating in your program. 
  • Referrals: The importance of building relationships is key in terms of being able to reach applicants where they are and being able to show that your program can add additional value to the applicant. Getting other programs, investors, foundations, or other organizations that interact and support entrepreneurs to recommend your program to entrepreneurs shows an inherent value from which they could benefit (Duane, SEEDSPOT). 

What are some challenges you have experienced in building out your cohort?

    1. Trust: Sometimes, especially in developing countries, it’s harder to get entrepreneurs to join an accelerator program because they don’t want to share details about their business model to outsiders – the fear is that someone will take their idea, steal it, and create something new/better that eventually puts them out of business (Sarah Sterling, Conveners.org).
    2. Discovery: Finding entrepreneurs that fit the profile of your program – “It’s a real balancing act because you need to ask enough questions to get the information to make a decision but not too many to create a burden for the entrepreneur” (Pamela R, Miller Center).
    3. Time/Resources: It takes a lot of time/energy — Truly it’s just a commitment.  Without putting time and resources behind it – the expectations should be limited to how much time I put into that.
    4. Competition: There are limited resources, applicants, partnerships, etc. and competition for those resources can make collaboration between programs more challenging.

What is some advice that you can give from your experience of creating stellar cohorts

    1. Meet people where they are: We need to contact local organizations in different countries to better understand their context in different territories.  We are trying not just to incorporate more women in our programs, but also indigenous as it is even more complex (Kira, Agora Partnerships).
    2. Your application process should be iterative and responsive. Be sure that your application process is a learning process for both you as the program and for the applicant – questions should build on one another and glean new information but also can be used to show the applicant what accelerator programs are looking for and the information they need to have ready for any given program (financials, business model strategy, pitch deck information, a strong team profile, etc).