October 4, 2016

Mentoring Techstars’ Mobility Graduating Class: 3 Tips for Accelerator Participants of the Future

Earlier this summer we announced the 2016 participating class for Techstars’ Mobility accelerator program. After three action-packed months, twelve companies have emerged as graduates with their pitches honed and several milestones accomplished ranging from strategic partnerships to signing on new marquee customers.

For example HAAS Alert, who is using the power of mobile devices to notify drivers of emergency vehicles nearby, announced that they are working on integrations with Android Auto and Apple Car Play as well as a partnership with Ford. Likewise, Algocian who brings real-time person detection to autonomous vehicles, shared that their system is now available for usage, and a demo can be found in the iOS store.

As a mentor and attendee at demo day, I was impressed by the caliber of the presentations, preciseness of the pitches and the demonstrated progress each team has made. It was a job well done all around.

Participating in an accelerator program of this kind is no small task. It takes dedication and determination to get your business ready for commercialization. After mentoring several classes, I wanted to share a few pieces of advice for all future accelerator participants as well as corporate mentors.

1. Be open to small pivots.

There are several weeks at the beginning of each Techstars program known as “mentor weeks.” Participants sit down with upwards of 50 mentors to get feedback on their business model, go-to-market strategy and future plans, and also receive valuable advice and connections. During these weeks, you may get an idea from a mentor that takes you down a certain path which - at the time - feels like the right direction to pursue; however more often than not, another mentor you meet with later on may provide a different idea or connection worth pursuing first. Be patient and know that small pivots are okay to make. It’s likely you’ll travel down several roads before you’re able to hit the ground running. It may be worth waiting to kick-off important strategic conversations until after the mentor weeks are completed and you know which path is best to take.

And a tip for mentors along these lines, it’s good to realize that the startups will be making these small course corrections regularly. It can be frustrating as you deal with what is essentially a moving target while you work to establish the parameters for a proof of concept or trial. You may want to consider initially providing guidance and feedback, monitoring the company’s progress over those first few weeks, and then identifying opportunities for more substantial shifts where you believe positive mutual outcomes will be achieved.

2. Respect the relationship.

As I stated previously, accelerator participants get the chance to meet with hordes of mentors over the course of the program – many of which are from large corporations. It’s important to understand the right formula for a successful relationship. When a fast, nimble startup is paired with a large corporation for a strategic discussion, expectation setting at the get-go is of the utmost importance.

As a startup, you are able to move quickly because you are focused on one core solution and have fewer moving parts to decide upon.  However, when engaging with a startup it’s likely the corporation is working to figure out how you fit into their bigger picture, and that involves various stakeholders to come to an agreement. The complexities associated with that mean the two groups cannot operate at the same speed. But, if you set expectations upfront in terms of timing, information needed, etc., it’s much more likely to turn into a successful relationship.  

3. Precision counts.

One thing that is special about the final demo day is the range of attendees in the room. Accelerator participants take the stage for 5-10 minutes to share their company story and vision and provide an update on their progress to date. Presenting to investors, media and potential partners all in one group, it’s important to be articulate and precise in describing your overall solution and accurate about the growth achieved. In the case of Techstars, the team does a great job preparing participants for the final demo day and the professionalism in the room shines through. That said, as you go through the program, be sure that every conversation you have – whether it’s with a mentor, advisor, partner or customer –  yields refinements to your pitch so that it resonates with your various constituencies.  That practice will go a long way to understanding your product market fit and how it evolves.

I look forward to watching the developments from the 2016 class and am eager to kick-off mentorships with the next Techstars IoT program later this year. Best of luck to all the future accelerator participants.


Related posts from Verizon Ventures:

Announcing the 2016 Class For Techstars’ Internet of Things Program

Accelerating Mobility Innovation with Techstars

Accelerating IoT Innovation with Techstars


Tags: Techstars , Accelerator , Daniel Chui