An important part of developing Scratchpad is figuring out what other accelerators are doing. Last week, we talked to staff at an accelerator at Texas Tech. Great insights, but theirs is heavily focused on students and faculty, so it doesn't exactly reflect the experience we want to create for entrepreneurs here in Maine.
Yesterday, we talked to the Desai Accelerator at the University of Michigan. What was cool about talking to them is that their accelerator is just one step ahead of us! Right now (literally right now, this summer), they're about halfway through their pilot with five teams. The "look and feel" of their accelerator matches the vision of ours, except that we'll have three or four teams.
I wanted to take a moment and share the key takeaways from our conversation:
Start Recruitment Early
Desai had 72 applications for 5 spots (wowza). That's sounds like an incredible number of applicants to us, but Desai started recruiting WAY before we were able to. They started talking to companies last fall, and we just got funding for our pilot this summer. We can't go back in time and start earlier, so we'll do the best we can with the time we have. But if we get to run accelerator a second time, we'll start talking to companies much, much, MUCH earlier!
Choose Companies with Intellectual Honesty
Intellectual honesty relates to an awareness of knowing what you know and what you don't know. We don't expect our founders to know everything, and we do expect that they'll make mistakes. But what's important to us is that they understand their strengths and weaknesses, and capable of reaching out for help when they need it. In other words, they've gotta own their shizzle, good and bad.
Leverage Mentors, or, "Supporters"
Accelerators rely on a huge number of mentors, or as Desai prefers to call them "supporters." We like the notion of "supporters" too; the word "mentor" seems to come pre-loaded with expectation on both sides of the mentor-mentee relationship. "Supporter" feels more fluid and flexible: a supporter might offer a one-time consultation or a weekly check-in meeting. A supporter could be a specialist or a generalist. We like it.
Host Founder Dinners
Once Scratchpad launches, we expect the startups will be "off and running" independently--heads down, gears churning--within their respective teams and customers. And yet...we want everyone to look up and around from time-to-time. The teams will have a lot to learn and share with each other. "Founder Dinners" are not unique to Desai--both the Techstars and Y-Combinator accelerators do it too--but it's too good to ignore: good food, good drinks, good speakers, good connections.
At Desai, each startup is blessed with their very own intern! The interns attend all meetings and take the meeting minutes. The arrangement is a win-win: founders get detailed notes, and interns get first-hand experience being in the trenches of a startup. We love this model. Since we work at a university, we should be able to pull this off too!
Our next accelerator call is later this week, with Tech Sandbox in Boston. From there, we hope to arrange visits to 2-3 accelerator sites in the Boston area.
In the meantime, if you, or any potential startup you know, is interested in applying to the Scratchpad Accelerator, please reach out! Even though the application isn't quite up and running, we'd love to talk to any interested applicants now. Just shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.