Collaborative Post

Make your start-up accelerator completely virtual in six easy steps


If you’re wondering how to provide as much value as possible without in-person relations via your fast-growing start-up accelerator program, know that you can. It is possible to have just as much impact virtually.

Innovations need to evolve in the start-up space. Accelerators need an upgrade and should always be open to some. Interestingly, we already have virtual models such as Propel, an accelerator that backs Canadian founders for as long as a year. For interviews, investor check-in, mentor talks, among others, Propel conducts them via the online video calling service Zoom.

500 Startups is a start-up company that had been working on a partially virtual system for four months before finally deciding to remove physical interactions from all its international programs. Based in San Francisco, the company plans to implement a simple Google spreadsheet to keep track of metrics that matter.

There are many ways to run events virtually. They already exist and with the Covid-19 outbreak, became even more relevant. Manny Medina, the CEO of Outreach, made the company’s Unleash event virtual in only a relatively short time. The reasoning behind this was having live keynotes in addition to personalized breakout topics. It can always work out, especially if we all work as a team.

Below are six factors to consider when converting into an incubator program or virtual start-up accelerator. 

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  1. Alternatives to FaceTime

The major times for person-to-person interactions are interviews and teaching the start-up personnel during the program. There is not one single replacement for these physical interactions but video interactions are as close as we can get to it today. The 500 Startups accelerator program sometimes backs teams even before meeting physically. This is due to a thesis open to global start-ups. To create a channel between different geographies, Skype calls are used. Start-ups such as Aircall, SweepSouth, and TalkDesk all carried out virtual interviews for programs that raised significant sums in venture capital.

Next, build a consistent community via video interactions. Audio interactions can easily default, but videos will sufficiently bridge the founder-investor gap. The video bit is essential. For consistency, Katapult Impact-Tech Accelerator requests that its more seasoned mentors relate closely with the start-up mentees. It’s important to start with a model that checks in personally with people and on an emotional scale too. Know what goes through their minds and then keep track of the metrics.

  • Manage content

Once you’ve succeeded in building relationships in a start-up program, you want to provide the right resources and tools. Many of these resources and tools already exist online and are only as far as a Zoom call.

Y-Combinator, via its Start-up Library, offers its resources to interested parties online. 500 Startups runs a channel on YouTube that is not lacking in speakers and pitches from previous programs. It also has a site that hosts a sub-program known as Marketing Hell Week. Virtually every leader of start-up programs blog. It can be quite shocking to see how much content is offered to the public by leading accelerators.

Remember to prioritize value on offer. Personal sessions or those limited by invitations only or done in batches are equally important. Video interactions in groups where there’s only one speaker are a good way to go about bringing value. Questions can be asked via text chat from attendees while the speaker responds verbally. You should do this at least once a week and the breakout sessions that discuss the business model in play. Content is of top priority; remember to be creative.

  • Maintain team continuity

An efficient team is always the engine of every great accelerator. The easy bit of this is that there is no shortage of content to support distributed teams. One good example of a company to learn from is Buffer, which runs a blog that talks all about its 100% remote team. Another one is BetterUp. The Head of Remote at AngelList partnered with Buffer to create “The 2020 State of Remote Work” annual report.

Have a structure in place that supports remote work features. That is, the team meetings, the weekly check-in, frequent tracking of targets and goals, feedback loops, participation, among others. The structure should revolve around quality communication.

  • Build founder connections.

Arguably the strongest thing to result of an un-person start-up accelerator remains the bonds established between colleagues. The connections between founders are usually sufficient to make the programs worth it. However, going virtual prevents bond-building over ping pong and golf games, so how will these connections happen? Here’s how:

Online gaming is a modern concept now gaining more acceptance every day than the day before it. There also virtual socials and Slack channels that can be used. It’s really up to the founders to be open to new ideas that result in bond-building. Promote connections by doing mutual hobbies or being part of a book club. All of these can be done virtually with a host of tools such as Facebook’s Watch Part function. This function makes it possible to host a TV show night or a Friday Happy hour every week over video interactions, done in batches. The “Tequila Friday” is one of such interactions hosted by 500 Startups and was launched by the CEO at Worthix.

  • Preparing for demo day

The day when you’re allowed to put on display the start-ups you’d chosen to invest in and support for months. You want to leave quite the impression, so how do you do that without going over-the-top? Here’s how:

With the sheer number of events that investors have to be at, it’s easy to see why demo days should be made virtual. That way, investors can be at any event they choose to be rather than asking associates to fill in their spots instead. And if you have that sugar content, you have all the attention you need.

Y-Combinator has something of the likes in the works and is planning is make its next demo day completely virtual. Other companies are sure to soon follow, especially with the release of the article by CMX that comprehensively shares tools and tips for event organizers as regards the Coronavirus outbreak.

  •  Follow through and follow-up

After the program, you’ve got a large percentage of your start-up on the virtual space but that shouldn’t be all. You should have online forms that gather updates from companies. You want to automate the sending out of these forms to your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) team. A good example is Google Forms to Hubspot.

Keep hosting video interactions that allow you to check in with the founders, send thoughtful emails when appropriate. Never stop thinking of how you can add more value to what you offer even if it’s sharing advice over email. If this happens for long enough, you may not need to have actual calls anymore because you’re always in the loop with all that matters.

This method approach gives you more free time as you’re already doing things that normally would fill up your calendar. AngelList, Signal, and LinkedIn are some tools you can use to support your Startups and build connections. In terms of managing the finances, you want software like Carta, Capbase, or CapShare in your arsenal. It will only get easier from here on out to be 100% virtual. The technology already exists to make life easier, use it.

Based on this article by Tristan Pollock