The accelerator boom: don’t make yours a bust

Startup accelerator programmes have become hugely popular in the tech world in recent years with ambitious inventors and eager entrepreneurs looking to turbocharge their dream of growing a thriving business.

Thanks to well-known success stories such as Airbnb, Dropbox, and Stripe, awareness of accelerators is growing. However, these highly competitive programmes are not just a shortcut to investment, they require consideration, commitment, and significant resource to reap the rewards.

Not all are born equal

The significant number of accelerator programmes available today has meant more people have the opportunity to unlock mentorship, training, and financing at an early stage than ever before. With so many programmes promising similar levels of support and outcomes, it can be challenging to differentiate one from the other.

It is however critical that anyone embarking on their accelerator journey recognises from the onset that not all accelerators are alike, and some will be a better fit than others.

Here are a few examples of different types of accelerator programmes:

  • Venture capital accelerators, such as Katapult or the Bethnal Green Ventures’ Tech for Good Programme, who typically invest in promising startups in exchange for equity, and can also provide essential mentoring and connections to fast-track company growth.
  • Another option is university-backed accelerators, which are beneficial if the business idea relies on academic backing, testing facilities and R&D support. Popular examples include Imperial Enterprise Lab and Accelerate Cambridge.
  • Perhaps building a capable and collaborative founding team is the priority, then an accelerator that invests in exceptional individuals rather than ideas, such as Carbon13 or Entrepreneur First, may be the perfect fit.

Finally, many business ideas require partnerships and validation to become successful, so sector-focused accelerators such as our own TechX Clean Energy Accelerator can empower entrepreneurs through industry insights, technical know-how and key relationships.

Mindset matters

Anyone going into an accelerator programme must have the right mindset. Time-poor entrepreneurs often master multi-tasking, juggling several demands at any one time, but when participating in one of these programmes, it’s time to slow down in order to speed up.

Accelerators are renowned for providing participants with much-needed structure and relentlessly pushing for progress. This creates a powerful momentum that many individuals find challenging to create on their own. Typically, accelerator programmes take place over a short period of time, which creates many demanding deadlines. In other words, it can be intense!

This structure is intentional; it places accountability on the participant to take action and responsibility for their own success through hard work. To be successful in such an environment, it is important that they focus all their attention on the programme, clear other work demands and turn off any distractions during this time-critical period.

So, it is worth anyone considering applying for an accelerator programme firstly to consider: is this the right time for me? Can I truly give it the attention and energy it requires right now? If the answer is no, re-think and re-adjust your timings.

One of the most attractive prospects of entering an accelerator is the opportunity to network. An accelerator brings together a vast mix of mentors, investors, customers, industry leaders, technical experts, and potential partners. However, impactful connections can only be formed and nurtured to the benefit of the business if the entrepreneur has the right mentality. You will need to be open to networking, learning and willing to take advice and feedback.

If an entrepreneur can master the skill of networking and grow a ‘little black book’ of contacts, they can use this to acquire talent later, allowing them to strengthen their team and stay competitive. Upskilling existing team members is also important, so being open-minded about sharing the learnings from the accelerator programmes across the team will pay dividends longer-term.

The rewards

There are many benefits of accelerator programmes, but none outweigh the other. They are all important considerations when applying, and combined they form the key elements of building a booming business.

When embarking on a programme it’s vital you understand what you want to get out of it to be successful; in addition to the accountability and momentum I already mentioned, the ‘C’s’ below are also key to consider:

Capital investment

Access to cash is an obvious benefit, and it’s not hard to see why. Recent research by Crunchbase identified investment cutbacks across all funding stages globally in 2023, with early-stage funding down more than 40% year-on-year. This is bad news for startups who desperately require capital to kick-start their growth.

This has only added to the popularity of accelerator programmes, and made them even more competitive. Another research report from Harvard Business Review found that startups participating in an accelerator raised 50% to 170% more from investors.

Furthermore, they were more likely to be alive or acquired than similar startups that applied to the accelerators but were not accepted.

With funding scarce during a time of economic uncertainty, acceptance into an accelerator programme could be make or break for a business in its infancy.


Growing a startup can be a lonely business. Many founders of successful businesses will tell you that starting out was hard, exhausting and isolating, and perhaps they almost gave up more than once.

That’s why so many entrepreneurs embrace accelerators because they link together other like-minded innovators who have a shared experience; you expose your weaknesses and fears, share your strengths and ideas, and as a result motivate each other to succeed. Whether it’s community or competition, you can achieve more together.

Co-designing and collaboration

Accelerators bring together exceptionally talented people, often from diverse backgrounds, with different experiences and ideas, in an open and collaborative space. During the programme, all participants come to the table with a business idea that is still being moulded, everything is considered a ‘work in progress’.

You could liken it to an art class whereby everyone has a canvas to paint, some have more blank spaces than others to begin with. Only with the help of group brainstorms, idea sharing and critique, is it possible to finish the painting with the hope of creating a world famous work of art.

Content curation

These days upskilling can be found at the click of the mouse. Online you can access millions of free tutorial videos, articles and podcasts explaining the ins and outs of cash flow, market penetration, branding, and so on. However, with so much content out there to sift through, how do you know what will add true value to you and your business? And, how do you know that you have actually understood it all when you don’t have the opportunity to ask any questions?

Accelerators add value through curation. The leaders of the programmes get to know your business, its goals and what it stands for, as well as the industry it operates in, so the content and training can be tailored to suit.

With so many competing demands on time, entrepreneurs need to make every moment count, and so accelerator learning becomes more than just reading about something, it becomes practical and useful. The opportunity to ask smart questions and learn from the answers given is invaluable.

Make it count

Accelerators can empower entrepreneurs to take charge of their business ideas, helping them to flourish – both as a business leader and a thriving enterprise. The competitive nature of them, coupled with the short timescale of the programmes themselves, puts the onus on the participant to do their research and choose the right one for them, to stay focused throughout, and to take any opportunity for reflection and direction on offer. Only then will an accelerator programme provide the framework to magnify their growth potential and create a meaningful impact.