As a Thai or Southeast Asian startup you’ve thought about applying to the world’s top accelerators but what exactly are they looking for? Is there a way to improve your chances of getting in? Techstars receives thousands of applications each year but accepts fewer than 1% of all applicants, while as of 2014, Fortune quoted Y Combinator (YC) as receiving 6000 applications per year, but taking on less than 100 startups per batch (there are two batches per year). At the first time for these two to share the same stage in Thailand, this is what the world’s top accelerators had to say for how local startups can improve their chances of being accepted.
Of course, nothing’s going to get you in short of applying. But go deeper and make sure you apply to the right program. “We have vertical programs at Techstars. What will increase your chances of success is if you apply to the one that’s most suited to you,” says Yossi Hasson, managing director at Techstars Africa. “Figure out why you should choose one program over another, and which one makes the best sense for your team.” At Techstars, each startup can actually apply to more than one program at a time. So make sure you take time to do your research and scout out the best fitting program(s)!
Asked what types of companies YC tends to fund the most, YC full-time partner Justin Kan says there isn’t a particular bias; the companies YC funds are the ones that apply. This year there’s a lot of infrastructure and chatbot companies; other trending areas at the moment are synthetic biology, fintech markets, autonomous delivery and autonomous infrastructure. Both accelerators agree they try to be unbiased when it comes to business models. “I think our biggest companies are B2C companies, right now – but that’s also because in the early years of YC we funded a lot more B2C companies. But now we have a lot of B2B companies that are growing, like Strike. I don’t think we really have a preference. It’s probably more of a gamble to start a B2C company as an entrepreneur, but there’s more average success in the B2B companies,” says Kan.
More important than which industry you’re in, or your business model, is your team, which Hasson says you will definitely share a lot of close, intimate space with. Kan says the accelerator actually looks at how a team works together before deciding whether to fund them. “When a team implodes, that’s pretty much bad news for a company. There’s not much you can do to mitigate that. Make sure they have the same values as you, and the same goals for the company,” advises Kan. Next, look at your market, idea and attraction. “If you build something that people want, the market is gonna grow up around you,” says Kan. Both accelerators certainly want to see if you’ve done a comprehensive study of the market, with concrete answers as to its size and exactly who is served by your product. The deeper you’ve gone with these questions, and actually getting your hands dirty creating and testing out your prototype, the better your application is likely to be.
Don’t overlook the value of local expertise, which we often take for granted. “There’s two ways: outward in, and inward out. The biggest, strongest startups are generally inward out,” says Hasson. As a local, you can go with what other people don’t know about, and capitalize on that opportunity. It gives you fewer outward players to compete with, whilst being able to deal in that with which you have more expertise with in the long run.
The biggest accelerators are looking to expand – want to propose a fund in your region? Send Justin an email. “There’s thousands of companies being started around the world that will be successful – and it’s awesome that there are local accelerators funding them. Tell them to email me and I will take a look,” he suggested.
What’s the future the accelerators themselves? Techstars is looking to form a global accelerator. Says Oko Davaasuren – director of the APAC Startup Programs at Techstars, “Our number of accelerators and people will most likely double in the next couple of years.” Techstars, who has grown from 99 staff last year to 170 this year, has 70 free positions open and is looking to have its first company IPO. Meanwhile YC also plans to create new a fund specific to startup growth rounds.
More information about the startup selection process for these two accelerators and interesting tips for startup entrepreneurs who want to apply can be found at the Techstars FAQ page and Y Combinator FAQ page.