NASA shuttle

NASA shuttle

Dying to be the next Dropbox or Airbnb to emerge from a rock star startup accelerator? Get in line. The market for early stage funding for hot startup brainchildren is bursting at the seams.

If you hook up with the right accelerator, you could tap into a wealth of vital resources to get your business idea off the ground, including the capital to take your idea from concept to product to launch. Add to that top-notch mentoring, hands-on training, influential networking and press exposure, and — fingers crossed — you might make it big.

But first you’ll need to ace your application.

Here are 10 essential questions to ask when shopping for and applying to a startup accelerator:

1. What are the first steps in seeking out and applying to a startup accelerator?
Start by talking to people from companies that have already graduated from accelerator programs you’re interested in, says Christine Tsai, partner at 500 Startups, an early-stage seed fund and incubator program located in Mountain View, Calif. Ask them what it’s like to spend a lot of time in close quarters with members of the accelerator because, if your application makes the cut, you’ll log lots of hours together, she says.

Most accelerators, including 500 Startups, Y CombinatorTechstars and several others, list their graduates (often referred to as alumni) on their websites. Tsai also advises searching for accelerator alumni on Quora, a popular question-and-answer website. “There are plenty of helpful ‘What is it like to go through [X accelerator]’ threads on there.”



2. Does it cost anything to apply to or join an accelerator? 
It depends on the accelerator, but generally startups shouldn’t have to pay cash to apply to or be part of an accelerator, according to David Cohen, founder and chief executive of Techstars, a mentorship-driven startup accelerator headquartered in Boulder, Colo.

“The accelerator should invest and only win when the company wins,” he says. “This is what defines a true accelerator.” Techstars charges nothing to apply for or to join its program.

However, a few accelerators do charge for participation. For example, 500 Startups charges $6,000 per founder and $3,000 per non-founder to take part in its program, though applying is free. The fees cover basic costs associated with running the program “and should be thought of like a tuition (vs. office rent),” according to 500 Startups FAQ.

3. How can I be sure I’m dealing with a real, trustworthy accelerator? 
Cohen suggests you visit the Global Accelerator Network (GAN), a network of 50 accelerators across six continents in 63 cities that Techstars launched as part of the White House Startup America Initiative. On GAN’s website you can research exactly what constitutes an accelerator and access a list of GAN-certified programs.

4. What’s the secret to getting accepted? 
While there’s no one-size-fits-all magic formula to make your startup a shoo-in, there are some ways to make your application stand out. Tsai says the first thing she looks for when reviewing applications is…

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