Getting accepted at an accelerator is difficult. It’s even easier to get accepted into elite universities like Harvard or Stanford. For example, Harvard has an acceptance rate of 5%, while Techstars has only 3%. At Birdhouse this is even only 1%! But don’t despair, in this blog post we will give you 4 ways to get selected.

Way 1: you have a (clear) story

Are you good at putting into words what your start-up does? This sounds like a truism, but many startups (and even established companies) sink into vague wording or jargon. Or as Michael Seibel, CEO of Y Combinator stated, “The number one problem companies have during the Y Combinator interview, is that a minute into the interview, we don’t know what they do.” So don’t use woolly language and be clear.

In addition, a clear flow in your story is important. Show that there is a problem, why the current market isn’t solving it and how your product does solve that problem. What we often see at Birdhouse, especially during the initial, written phase, is that startups either get stuck on describing their problem, or they only talk about their product. So a clear, smooth explanation of your start-up, is a crucial element for any pitch.

Way 2: You have a (proven) product

For Birdhouse and other accelerators, it’s a definite plus if you already own a product, MVP or prototype. You join an accelerator to grow fast, and obviously that goes better when you have something to grow. Knowing how a market works and knowing how customers think is a big plus. Also try to see the broader relevance of your product. If your start-up has a social impact, that’s definitely a plus.

We also look at whether your idea is scalable. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a SaaS product that’s going to take the world by storm, but it has to go beyond just a one-man shop. Some questions accelerators often ask are:

  • Do you have a demo?
  • Do you understand your market and your customers?
  • Does your product already have (paying) users?
  • Do you have usage figures yet?

Way 3: You have a strong team

Your product is obviously important, but the chances are that it will still change and that your start-up will have to do a pivot. A strong team is therefore of great importance. So show your team, your background and your successes. It doesn’t always have to do with the start-up. For example, the Dropbox founder cited in his submission to Y Combinator that he once built a poker bot that played with real money (and broke even).

In terms of size, we at Birdhouse prefer to select teams of at least two to three people. We prefer start-ups where at least two founders are active full time. A good team complements each other and has a combination of backgrounds. Don’t be afraid to show where you already failed and what you learned from it. Failure will affect you a lot as a start-up, and showing that you can deal with it is important. At Birdhouse we often look at how coachable teams are, how they respond to feedback and how they respond to it. Having that skill is definitely a plus.

Way 4: You are a strong networker

An underhanded way to get in at some accelerators is to network with the ecosystem around the accelerator. This way you can make sure that a mentor, staff member or one of the alumni will put in a good word for you, and you will be one step ahead of the other applications. With a lot of accelerators, this is still common.

How do you do that? You can contact people around the accelerator or try to bump into them during networking events. Full disclosure: at Birdhouse, this is not a back door way to get in. Other accelerators, such as 500 Startups, also performed this system. But if we saw you at one of our networking meetings before, that might make a good impression. This may not get you a direct ticket, but asking for feedback during networking moments can help you better understand the vision behind it.