10 Tips for Acing Your Application for Any Edtech Accelerator

10 Tips for Acing Your Application for Any Edtech Accelerator

By Patrícia Gomes     Oct 26, 2015

10 Tips for Acing Your Application for Any Edtech Accelerator

Applying for accelerator programs can easily drain one’s time and energy. But the resources, connections and mentorships they offer can make all the difference between a company that stalls—and one that succeeds.

The application process may seem daunting; still, over 100 startups have graduated from edtech accelerators. We asked several entrepreneurs who have been through the fire—along with a couple investors who run the programs—for their advice on building a strong application. The following is a summary of tips from Tim Brady (co-founder of Imagine K12), Bart Epstein (CEO at Jefferson Education Accelerator), Aaron Feuer (co-founder and CEO of Panorama Education), Grant Hosford (co-founder and CEO of codeSpark), Nitesh Goel (co-founder of Padlet) and Kate Whiting (co-founder and CEO of Educents).

1. Do your homework before anything else

Applying to an accelerator may sound similar to applying for college. Both offer mentors and networks, classmates along with deadlines to watch for. But don’t assume that each accelerator is a right fit. Some programs specialize in product development; others emphasize building revenue.

You should demonstrate an understanding of how the program you’re applying to can help you improve your company, says Epstein. “The best applications don’t just brag about how great the applicants are. Rather, they brag about how great they are at certain things and make clear how being part of the program will help them improve a critical weakness.”

Here’s a sample sentence that shows what the company does—and what help it needs—in a clear manner.

2. Get in touch with previous graduates

Is it a good program for my company? Is the expertise appropriate for the product I want to sell? Which kind of support may I expect?

Sometimes, the best way to get answers will be to seek out graduates from these accelerators. Before applying to co.lab, an accelerator for educational games, Hosford reached out to the program’s alumni for their insights. There’s a catch to getting a hold of them: “Entrepreneurs are busy. Be specific in your emails. You will see that they are very responsive.”

3. Put some effort on your video. Every word matters

Most accelerators will ask you to submit a short video. This is your best chance to stand out. “The video introduction is an important part of the application. Put some thought into what you are going to say before you press record,” says Brady.

That does not mean your video needs Hollywood production quality. Words matter above all else. Feuer applied to Imagine K12 and Y Combinator with a video where he and his friends sat on a couch talking for a minute about their ideas. “It was a very simple video,” he recalls, “but we had the ability to say what we were doing and we could show that we were doing something important.”

4. Why do you have the right team?

If you’re applying as a team, the fact that you can convince others to join is one encouraging validation of your ideas. But are they the right people? Showing that you have the right talent is a critical part of the application process. “Investors are looking to invest in founders,” says Whiting. “At an early stage, you probably don’t have enough traction to be 'the next big thing' yet. Everyone has good ideas, but not everyone can execute.”

And don't forget to introduce each one thoughtfully, says Epstein. "When you highlight your core team members and advisors, be clear about what their areas of expertise are. Simply listing their previous companies doesn’t communicate much."

5. Be straightforward with your answers

Accelerators receive and review hundreds of applications. If you want to stand out, make sure your responses are concise. Don’t say in three sentences what you could have said in one. We said that every word matters for the video. That's also true for every step for the written application process.

6. Turn in your application as early as possible

Don't wait until the last minute to send your application. The earlier you turn it in, the greater chance and more time the accelerators will have to review it.

7. Be an expert on your product, but be flexible to changes

If you are just starting a company, you probably don't have all the answers—and that's fine, says Brady. Yes, you should have a good sense of your primary market, a business plan and the problem that your product is solving. But you should be flexible because your plans during the course of the accelerator program. “Building a company is a process and we don't expect entrepreneurs to have all the answers on day one,” says Brady.

8. Show, don’t tell—data is more convincing than adjectives

That's nothing wrong about telling everybody your abilities. After all, says Whiting, “Who is going to toot your own horn if you don’t? You have a few minutes to tell them how wonderful you are and why you are the person to solve this problem.”

However, data is always more convincing than adjectives. And don’t be afraid if you can’t show “hockey stick growth” in your application. “Even if you just started building your business, show your week-over-week growth, your month-over-month growth, or your monthly, weekly or daily active users,” suggests Whiting. “Whatever metrics are important to you—show them.”

9. Consider waiting before applying if you don't have supporting data

Making your product stand out can be difficult in an edtech market has becoming increasingly crowded with companies and products. Companies often compete to solve similar problems. Feuer and Whiting recommend that you should only apply when your product is starting to show some traction in terms of active user numbers or other stats that suggest you’re on to something.

“You shouldn't apply if 10 other people could have written your application. Just apply when you are sure you have something unique, something that only you could do,” suggests Feuer.

10. Not accepted? Try again!

And what if you have the makings of the next edtech unicorn but still don’t get accepted? Get yourself back up and try again, says Goel. He was not accepted the first time he applied to Y Combinator. But instead of giving up, he applied to Startup Chile. Even though that wasn’t his first program of choice, he figured it could be worthwhile since the cost of living in Latin America was cheaper.

As soon as he came back to the US, he applied and was accepted into Y Combinator and Imagine K12.

"Don't be angry at them if you are not accepted. All you have to do is apply again. Some programs are offered twice a year. Figure out what's your problem, fix it and try once more. It worked for me," he says.

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