17 Things When Applying to a Startup Accelerator Program

John Cousins
February 7, 2023
6 min read

It is the dream of lots of us to start our own business and perhaps be the next Zuck or Bezos. And a thousand programs have blossomed to help ferret out, nurture and develop the next generation of unicorn companies.

When launching a startup, getting help in turning an idea into a MVP (minimum viable product), mentorship, support and feedback, can be the difference between success and failure.

The right accelerator program can really help in avoiding pitfalls, speeding up the learning process, and increasing the odds of success. Accelerator programs usually last around ten weeks and you get the support of a cohort of peers and access to the accumulated wisdom of successful founders. You also get access to investors that are attracted to ventures that are vetted by and complete the program.

Accelerator programs are always taking applications for their next cohort of companies. If you are a founder considering applying, here is a list of 17 things to keep in mind to make your application complete and your venture idea ready to hit the ground running when you are accepted.


In the application process, write clearly communicated short answers that leave room for future conversations. Create interest in your proposal but don’t try to answer every contingency. Make it easy to access your information with links to slide decks, LinkedIn profiles, videos, references, and anything else you deem important to initially know about your venture idea.


Starting a company and being a successful entrepreneur takes profound self-awareness. You need to carry an honest, high fidelity picture of yourself in your head. This requires an accurate assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. Make a plan to soar with your strengths and shore up your weaknesses with partners and employees.

Go deep and assess your commitment and level of ambition. Make sure you are doing this for the right reasons and not just for the money and recognition you think will come once you are a billionaire.

Understand the importance of what you are doing. Making incremental progress on meaningful work will carry you through the dark days. Being able to communicate this will not only keep you motivated but will be the core of the vision that will motivate others to come along for the ride.

Don’t be an Asshole

No one wants to work with, for, or invest in, a jerk. Talented people will just avoid you, or bail at the most inopportune times. It’s a misnomer that high pressure and fear spur achievement.

There are two tests for recognizing assholes:

After encountering the person, do people feel oppressed, humiliated or otherwise worse about themselves?

Does the person target people who are less powerful than him/her?

If these behaviors describe you, stop now and apologize to everyone you have negatively impacted.

Ability to Take Criticism

Don’t be emotionally attached to your idea. Show that you are open and receptive to feedback and can process it and do something constructive with it. No idea survives contact with customers. You will have to iterate, pivot, and grope your way to a fit between your product and market. Arguing why customers are wrong and just don’t get it, is not a fruitful way to make progress.

Description of Business

Show that you have taken the time to think through your concept and can present it with clarity. This includes understanding the market and having a vision for why this is needed or wanted by potential customers. And why now is the time: what technological convergences or customer preferences have changed to make this the moment opportune.

Value Proposition

What is your promise to the customer? Why does it matter? Who is the typical customer? Develop some customer archetypes.

Have something developed and built

Have a prototype or mock up of some sort. It doesn’t have to be finished or complete, but don’t just describe a vague idea. Have something that potential customers can react to so you can get back to the drawing board and iterate improvements. Don’t wait to launch.

Go to Market

Have a marketing plan that is well defined. Have a clearly thought out strategy of how you are going to reach potential customers and deliver your product. The best ventures have global potential, but niche-focused to start. You should have identified a market segment that you can reach easily and start to learn from.


Who is your team? Have you worked together well and have complimentary skill sets? Does your team represent the requisite technical and domain expertise?

Business Model

Describe how you are going to get paid and make money.


Be aware of metrics. Take time to think about what is the most important things for you to measure. The obvious ones are Revenue and Users. If you haven’t launched your product or service yet, then time to launch is probably the metric to follow.


Show some initial traction. Even small revenue and a customer base prove there is a market and interest in your value proposition. Make sales and be on the path of customer validation.

Past Failure

Describe your past failures and what you have learned from these experiences. Own your failures. Don’t make the same mistakes twice. Make new ones.

Secret Sauce

Describe what your competitive edge is. Do you have any Intellectual Property like a patent or anything proprietary? Can you maintain a moat to protect your market from competitors? What are you doing that everyone else is overlooking or incapable of doing?

Subject Matter Expertise

Does your team have a detailed knowledge of the space you are focusing on and/or the technology you are building? Are you intimately familiar with the market segments you are targeting?


Show that you have domain knowledge, expertise and experience that is germane and applicable to developing and delivering on your value proposition.

Pick the right program

Do your homework. This is a two way street. The accelerator program has to be the right fit. Make sure that the accelerator program you are applying to is in a position to really help you add value to your enterprise.


Don’t be intimidated by this list. You don’t need to check all these boxes before applying, but the further you are down these paths the better your chances of being accepted and the better your chances of success. And taking the time to consider these aspects will get you prepared to have fun.

Be creative. Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Want more?

Check out my book Startups: A Guide to Entrepreneurship.

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John Cousins
Author, Entrepreneur, & Teacher

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