Three Things We Learned From (Being Rejected By) Excelerate

Nick Cronin
I just finished reading Josh Hernandez’s article titled Surviving Incubation, which contained some great advice for those entering Excelerate’s summer program.  For us at and hundreds of other startups out there, this article does not apply to us as we were not selected to be one of the ten startups participating in the program.  I still found Josh’s article very informative,  but thought I’d create a list of things we learned from being rejected which hopefully the other startups in our position may find helpful.

1.  Take the comments you received from Excelerate, evaluate them, and make changes accordingly.  I have great respect for Troy Henikoff and the rest of the team at Excelerate.  Although their comments were very brief on why we didn’t get in, I have spent many hours going over them.  Not because I am in denial or regret something, rather I respect their opinions and find much value in learning from them.   Whether you want to change something or not based on the comments is up to you, but at the very least, spend some time evaluating them.  Also, if you had the opportunity to interview, reflect back on that interview.  Many of the questions you were asked will be repeated if you are ever reapplying to an incubator or seeking any sort of funding.  Reflect back at your answers and think of how to handle the questions better the next time you are asked something similar.

2.  Try to re-create some of the incubator experience for yourself.  No, I do not mean show up at the Excelerate offices in June and sneak in.  Rather, talk with others like Josh who have been through Excelerate or another incubator program.  Ask them in detail what they learned.  Seek out your own mentors and ask them for opinions and advice.  Though you will not have full access to the list of mentors Excelerate has compiled, there are some great people out there willing to help out regardless of whether you are in Excelerate or not.  Be resourceful and get in touch with these people.  Also, use other resources like books and podcasts to learn as much as you can about things like accounting, financing, SEO, sales and any other areas applicable to your startup.  

3. Being rejected from Excelerate does not put you out of business.  I think Troy and team would be the first to tell you that being rejected from Excelerate should not be the end for your startup.  Since interviewing for Excelerate, we have used what we learned and have been working harder than ever. Our growth rate has continued to increase, we have received some national press including in the USA Today, and we have received some unsolicited phone calls from large Silicon Valley VCs letting us know they are interested in what we are doing and the market we are tackling.  We know we still have a ton of work to do, but we were not willing to let the setback of being rejected from Excelerate take our focus away from business at hand.  Being accepted into Excelerate does not guarantee success and being rejected does not guarantee failure -- let the rejection be a motivator and get back out there and work hard to build a great business. 

There are ten great startups out there ready to start Excelerate soon and I wish them the best of luck -- I have no doubt that there will be some huge successes in that group.  I do know that there are many more than ten great startups in this area -- so to all of you who are in a similar position to us, keep your head up and keep working hard.
Best of luck!

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Pamela Olson

Great post Nick.  Thanks for sharing!

Rafiq Ahmed
Good post, Nick. Although we at Demibooks didn't make the final 10 this year, going through the interviews was a great experience for us. And filing out that initial application is a self-help session in itself! Troy's specific feedback to us was clear and actionable (although as one of my Advisors put it, "isn't that what they are supposed to help you guys figure out" :)  I felt the balance between what we should have already figured out prior to the interviews and what we expected to work through during incubation a bit tricky. At the end of the day, it's often about one's business model and not the product or service. Like you, we are moving forward and keeping focus on our customers.
Maria Christopoulos Katris



I echo Una's comments and would add a few more to the list: TiE Midwest, Hyde Park Angels, DePaul's Coleman Center, and of course, Built in Chicago!  Let us know how we can help you moving forward:)  Depending on the exact help you need, between  the members on this site, we can help point you in the right direction:)



Una Pipic
Nick, this is a great post and a great perspective. Excelerate is one of many resources available to start-ups in this city and you and other companies should be reaching out to the CEC, IIT, ITA, midVentures, SCORE, Accion, JVS, Clean Energy Trust...there are plenty of ways to find good resources and great advice in this city. People will support a good idea and a great, passionate team, so don't hesitate to reach out and ask for help.
Troy Henikoff
Nick - I appreciate your posting this, and hope that we stay in touch. We are trying to make the Excelerate application / interview process better each year and I welcome getting more feedback and seeing how we can improve it for next year.  I am sure we missed a number of diamonds out there, and we LOVE to see entrepreneurs in Chicago helping each other and building the community.  I look forward to hearing about your continued progress and success!
Matt Moog
Nick - this type of openness and willingness to share is absolutely fantastic.  Thanks very much.

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