This post was originally on Entrepreneurs Unpluggd.
Did you know that one of the top startup incubatorprograms in the world is located right here in Chicago?
I’m a huge, huge fan of Excelerate Labs, the best summer incubator program for startups in Chicago. I’m not your usual fangirl though: hear me out. My startup, FeeFighters, participated in the inaugural class for Excelerate way back in 2010. The summer was an amazing experience, and I’ve being part of the Excelerate family ever since. If you’re a startup, here are some insider (if you will) reasons to apply:
1) Sheer Quantity of Meetings – The first month of Excelerate, you will meet more people than you ever thought you could in so short a time. You’ll have access to all kinds of opinions, experience, and feedback on your product. Some will be great and can change the course of your company, some will just hear you out and offer advice. Either way you’ll have access to people like Ron Conway, David Cohen, and top Chicago technology leaders. You’ll learn what common questions even experienced entrepreneurs will have regarding your customer acquistition strategies or fundamental business. What is so unique about an accelerator is that you would never schedule so many meetings in so short of a time yourself, so having the infrastructure there forces you to have these meetings (and reap the benefits).
2) Potential investors – Many of the meetings you will have will be with potential investors to your company. The structure of the program is to have a lot of meetings, then spend the rest of the time learning and building your business until there is a big Demo Day at the end, attended primarily by other investors. The really interesting thing is that lots of investors actually materialize way before Demo Day.
3) Potential advisors – In addition to potential investors, many of the folks who meet with Excelerate companies end up advising them in some way. That might mean an active role in the growth of the company, or a steady flow of introductions to potential partners, investors, or other mentors. Regardless, these people are passionate about helping startups and picking some to mentor. Since they have agreed to take part in Excelerate, these potential advisors are much more generous with their time than they would be otherwise.
4) Education – In the second month of Excelerate, there is a mini MBA course where experts will speak on subjects from branding, to fundraising, to HR, to unit economics. Excelerate does a really great job of covering the bases when it comes to issues that startups would want to learn about, but may not have gotten around to. This even means bringing in VCs to explain what they look for in companies as well as lawyers who explain the mechanics of a term sheet. Very practical information, in a very short amount of time.
5) Community – The sense of community Excelerate creates is overwhelming. Companies from the first class still reach out to each other on a regular basis for advice and recommendations. We really do feel like we are part of a family with a vested interest in seeing each other succeed. This sense of community is something that startup hubs like Silicon Valley point to as being essential to a successful startup ecosystem, and Excelerate does its part in promoting this for Chicago.
6) Success Factor – Excelerate has a pretty awesome success rate for startups that end up raising money (and even making successful exits!). In the last 17 months (and two classes) Excelerate startups have raised over $12 Million in total and created over 100 jobs. Imagine if I told you about a company that was only 17 months old and had created over 100 jobs…you’d be pretty excited.
If you’re looking for an opportunity to catalyze your startup’s growth, be exposed to people with amazing experience you would otherwise not have access to, and be part of a supportive community….apply to Excelerate today. It really is the best thing you can do to grow your startup.