In my role as Entrepreneur in Residence at MIT and Program Director for MIT’s Global Founders’ Skill Accelerator (GFSA), I’ve been researching accelerator programs worldwide, and I thought I’d share some of that research in a series of blog post. This is the second post in the series; read the first post here.
In recent years, many global accelerator programs have launched in the US, and Silicon Valley certainly takes the lead in this effort. The original accelerators such as Y Combinator or Techstars are still regarded as leaders, followed by many other programs as role models.
However, the sterling lineup of mentors in Techstars or YC makes these two programs highly desirable to both entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists. As literally hundreds of startups from all over the globe appear everyday looking for ideal accelerators, it is prudent to know that joining an accelerator program in itself does not guarantee success.
Incubators versus Accelerators
When Paul Graham created the Y Combinator program in 2005, the program was thought of as an incubator, which largely promises office space in exchange for equity. However, later this program developed into a strong accelerator displaying marked differences from the incubator model. While both the incubator and the accelerator share a common mission of guiding a startup, the main differences between the two are the applicable time periods which are short and defined in case of accelerators; time-bound funding in exchange of equity for accelerators; and the rare incentive of A-list mentors offered by most accelerators.
The 500 Startups accelerator network has connected the Silicon Valley with the rest of the world in an excellent manner. Catering mostly to international startups, this program is doing a commendable job of supporting startup founders from abroad to get their feet wet.
Accelerators Who Take Equity versus Who Don’t
It is widely known that YC takes 7% equity, 500 Startups takes 5%, but there are some accelerator programs who take as much as 50%. This practice may make it difficult to raise another funding round later with less equity to offer VCs.
On the other hand, the programs offered by top university campuses like MIT, Stanford or Harvard do not take any equity from student companies. Non-academic accelerator programs like Mass Challenge also do not take any equity. The programs who do not take any equity usually demonstrate strong networks with the VC community and other corporate sponsors for fund raising issues.
Academic vs. Independent Accelerator Programs
The accelerator community in the U.S. can be broadly divided into two segments: The accelerators owned by university campuses and the independent accelerator programs. For additional information, budding entrepreneurs with startup ambition should refer to this Mashable article: The Pros and Cons of Startup Accelerators.
The accelerators who take equity believe they are the ones who will finally survive; they say accelerators who have no financial stake in a startup are simply there for public relations and no real financial growth for the company. Yet, educational accelerators are driven by universities, with unique capabilities and access to talent. My next post will delve into some of the best academic accelerators in the U.S.