7 Tips for Getting Accepted to a Startup Accelerator

The 2017 VC FinTech Accelerator - Empowered by FIS wrapped up our second cohort at the end of the summer, and we are already recruiting for 2018. (Applications close Feb. 10.) That got me thinking about our application and evaluation process, so I thought I would list a few things that helped founders stand out in the application pool.

Our second batch received 295 applications from 39 countries - doubling our pool from 2016. Filtering that to 10 is quite a challenge - but not one beyond our capacity. Our team had to conduct over 150 interviews with entrepreneurs and reviewed over 700 due diligence documents during the 8-week selection process.

Our final selection was a batch of 10 companies looking to leverage their solutions to enable financial institutions. Selection was highly competitive, but the leaders stood out on my list from the first 20-minute conversation I had with them.

    If you are interviewing with an accelerator or seed investor, the first thing you need to do is stand out among all the noise. Below is my list of tips on how to stand out based on conducting hundreds of founder interviews.

    How to Stand Out During the Accelerator Application Process:

    1. Make sure your application or initial contact form is complete, thoughtful and concise. Poorly written responses mean you don't understand the importance of the question, or worse, you are lazy. Always look to convey the "So What."
    2. Prepare for your interview & presentation well in advance. You probably can't do it on the fly. If you have already been working on your pitch, you likely just need to reflect on how you can relate it to the investor or program you are applying to. If you are making it up as you go that will be apparent and unimpressive.
    3. Sell me. I know when you are in sales mode...and I like it! As a matter of fact, I am looking for it. That tells me you have the skills to sell prospective clients and employees as well as evangelize your company to people you encounter. But don't oversell and don't lie. "I don't know, let me get back to you" is 100x better than a lie.
    4. Be passionate about the solution and company you are building. If you have a personal connection to the problem you are solving then include that in the narrative. That always makes your story more compelling and a good story is important.
    5. Be coachable. If you start to get defensive about your deck, design or business model when we start challenging assumptions then that tells me we are going to have problems down the road. We like to avoid those.
    6. Keep your pitch straightforward, simple and educational. We might be wrapping our heads around 4-5 business models in a single day, which is fun but mentally challenging. If you over-complicate your pitch in order to sound smart, I'll focus on your communication problem instead of the problem you're solving.
    7. The 10-slide outline plus appendix is a good place to start for pitch structure. It presents components in a logical order and has been proven to work. Focus on content over design.