I’ve been aware of accelerators for some time, but honestly never really thought of them for Idle Smart.
We were so heads down trying to grow our own company that I didn’t really have time to learn about the advantages of a quality accelerator. Earlier this summer, however, we were connected to Village Capital through the startup community here in the Midwest and were invited to participate in their Energy: US 2016 program.
While it was a natural fit for us sector-wise, what we liked most was Village Capital’s mission – a focus on diverse talent in untapped geographies away from the coasts – and the uniqueness of their peer-selected investment approach.
Having just completed the four-month program, we are certain that we’ll benefit from the experience as our business grows further. While we are just one data point and by no means experts, we wanted to share a few unexpected observations and lessons we picked up along the way.
It’s not just about being investment-worthy — we needed to become investment-ready, too.
We found that we spent a lot of time early in the program describing our investment worthiness. “We have a great idea that solves a real problem, and we see signs of success.”
While this is important, we realized quickly that it’s not enough if we were looking to attract investors to help us grow our business. We learned that to be considered investment-ready, we needed to clearly state where we wanted to go, communicate the capital it would take to get us there and detail how our investors get a great return. We had to put ourselves in the investor’s shoes to see what it took for Idle Smart to be attractive to them.
The “pitch deck” isn’t just for external audiences; it becomes a powerful tool for internal audiences, too.
There are a lot of great resources on how to put together a compelling pitch deck and going through the process of developing your pitch. From you value proposition to making the case of why you’re a great investment, creating a pitch deck is time well spent even if you’re not trying to raise money.
Why is that? Because when done well, it can also be used as an internal tool to keep the day-to-day focus consistent with what we’re trying to achieve long term. It’s tempting to chase customers or “shiny objects” as a young company. But just because we can do something does not mean we should. Having gone through the process of developing a compelling vision as part of our pitch deck leaves us with a great tool to keep us on the right path long-term.
We found that our cohorts in the accelerator were just as impactful as the mentors.
As Mark Twain said, “It’s not what you don’t know that hurts you, it’s what you know that just ain’t so.” Since we live it every day, it’s easy to convince ourselves that our story is bulletproof. We’re confident that our story is perfect … until we start to speak and get questions. And more questions.
The Village Capital model is unique in that it asks its participants to make peer-selected investments in other companies in the cohort. As a result, we spent a lot of time getting to know each other’s business and giving near-constant feedback on every aspect of their business model, assumptions and investment readiness. These are smart people who run their own businesses in our industry and so, however painful it was to hear, we benefitted from their feedback, particularly since we may not get specific and actionable feedback from potential investors.
While we never thought we ‘had time’ for an accelerator, it turns out to have been one of the best things we’ve done for Idle Smart. As you think about growing and maturing your business, I would encourage you to think about an accelerator as a great tool to do so.
Idle Smart founder Jeff Lynch has 20 years experience in high-tech leadership positions. He also has broad general management expertise spanning the customer-facing and corporate strategy continuum.