Startup Accelerators: Everything You Need to Know as a Founder

Written by German Accelerator

As a startup founder, you always have a lot to manage: developing your product or service, making early sales, hiring new staff, finding new sources of funding, and generally running a business.   

Sometimes in the midst of day-to-day tasks, it’s difficult to think about the long-term future of your startup, let alone make plans like an international expansion. But sometimes, that’s exactly what your startup needs: a chance to accelerate and scale up in ways that would otherwise be out of reach. 

A startup accelerator is your best bet to help make this kind of growth happen. But is a startup accelerator (or startup incubator) really the right choice for your business? How do you know if your startup is ready for such a program? 

We’ll answer these questions and more below. Let’s dive in.  


What Is a Startup Accelerator? How Does It Work?

A startup accelerator is a fixed-term, cohort-based, and mentorship-driven program that provides training and guidance to startups to increase their scale and expedite growth. Typical programs take between three and six months but vary depending on the accelerator. 

Accelerators are one of the best routes for startups to gain funding, especially when the startup accelerator program is focused on overseas markets. Some startup accelerators provide seed-round funding – usually somewhere between US$10,000 and US$100,000 – in exchange for equity in the business. Whereas other accelerators offer intensive training and mentoring with equity as the fee for their services. 

German Accelerator doesn’t take equity and doesn’t charge fees for most programs. We prepare you for fundraising and connect your startup to our vast network of partners, potential customers, VCs, and angel investors when you’re ready. So while investment funding isn’t guaranteed or may not be your top priority at this time, we will certainly set you up for success. 

In addition to startup funding opportunities, accelerators usually offer comprehensive training from experienced startup mentors, entrepreneurs, and experts in the field. Most startup founders will work with a lead mentor in addition to specialized mentors across a broad range of topics and areas, possibly including: 

  • Product-market fit
  • Elevator pitches
  • Go-to-market strategy
  • Business model refinement
  • Marketing and sales tactics
  • Legal and compliance concerns
  • Internationalization
  • Business culture and etiquette overseas

Startup accelerator programs typically culminate in a graduation or “demo day” in which the graduating startups pitch their company to the local ecosystem. These startup pitch events showcase each company’s new streamlined product and/or messaging that they completed during the program. (For an idea of what these events are like, check out an upcoming German Startup Night near you.) 


What Do Startup Accelerators Look for in Potential Participants?

So, how do you know if your startup is ready to join an accelerator? It all depends. Every startup accelerator will have different entry requirements and criteria for their programs, so you’ll need to do some research to find the right fit for your company.

Many accelerator programs are looking for startups with a willingness to learn, because having a flexible and motivated team is just as important as an innovative product or service. Another common requirement is that entrepreneur founders must be willing and ready to significantly expand their business, potentially to international markets. 

Startups applying to German Accelerator programs will need to have a minimal viable product (MVP), some traction in Germany as their home market, and a well-established founding team. Essentially, your startup should already be fully up and running and ready to scale up. If this sounds like your team, you’re ready to apply to our programs. 


Startup Accelerators vs. Startup Incubators: What’s the Difference?

Even though they’re sometimes used synonymously, “startup accelerator” and “startup incubator” are not interchangeable terms. Here’s what makes each one unique. 

In short, incubators help startups that are still coalescing in the idea stage, and accelerators help startups that already have an MVP and are ready to grow fast. Both organizations may or may not take equity from participating startups, depending on their model. 

Startup incubator programs focus on mentorship and helping a young company determine the basics of its offerings and business model. Incubators are more time-flexible and might accompany a startup for up to two years, depending on its needs. In addition, many startup incubators are non-profit since they tend to be part of a larger academic or government institution.  

Startup accelerator programs are much more intensive and time-bound, usually lasting three to six months. While accelerators include mentoring and training just like an incubator, their sessions are more hands-on and skills-focused since the participating startup is already expected to be up and running. As a result, more accelerator sessions show entrepreneurs how to grow their business rather than just how to build it in the first place.  

As our name implies, German Accelerator is not an incubator but a startup accelerator that focuses on helping German startups successfully prepare, access, and tackle an international expansion into new markets.



Benefits of Joining a Startup Accelerator

One of the most significant benefits of joining a startup accelerator is preparedness to receive funding and faster access to such funding. A startup accelerator will help you improve your company on all levels, making it more attractive to investors. Whether your startup receives seed funding from the accelerator itself or as a result of your startup’s growth during the program, raising a round is often a flagship moment in any startup’s journey. And one successful investment round often leads to the next. 

Next, many startups close early customer deals during their program time or immediately after, which represent both new sources of cash flow and early feedback on product-market fit. In addition, many startup accelerators connect entrepreneurs with local sales and/or distribution partners, which are critical for long-term sales growth.  

Accelerator programs that focus on international expansion also help startups expand their network in new overseas markets. Access to industry experts, long-term mentors who know the target market well, and local partners are all invaluable when it comes to internationalization. The return on these relationships will pay dividends to your startup for years to come. 

Another key benefit of a startup accelerator is receiving early constructive feedback on your business from committed mentors. The whole purpose of an accelerator is to reduce the time you might spend learning from your own mistakes by absorbing the same lessons from experienced entrepreneurs who’ve been there before and know the local market. While an accelerator represents a steep learning curve for your team, your startup ultimately benefits from such intensive one-on-one feedback. 

One often overlooked benefit of the accelerator experience is the valuable connections you make with fellow startup founders during the program. Because most startup accelerators are cohort-based, you’re immediately connected to fellow entrepreneurs who are at a similar startup stage as you. They’re going through the same hurdles and facing the same challenges, so exchanging ideas and experiences – and solutions – is an effective way to grow as a founder. Plus, startup accelerators usually have a vast alumni network that you can tap into and get advice from alumni startups that are further ahead on their growth (and international expansion) journey. 

Finally, joining an accelerator program can be a big boost to your startup’s reputation. Getting into a well-established startup accelerator is very competitive, so being accepted into one is proof that your startup has high potential. In essence, your startup’s brand grows because of its association with the larger accelerator’s brand. As a result, your investment pitches, partnerships, and marketing all benefit from having participated in a robust accelerator program.  

Here are a few other benefits of joining a startup accelerator: 

  • Connections to a rich business network of sales and distribution partners 
  • Access to experts, specialists, and coaches around the globe 
  • Opportunities to pitch your startup to additional investors 


How to Tell You’re Ready to Join a Startup Accelerator

So, do you think you’re ready to join a startup accelerator program? Here’s what you should have sorted by the time you apply: 

  • Basics: You should be a legally established business with a dedicated team of founders and a working MVP of your main offering. 
  • Commitment: Accelerators require startups to dedicate a significant amount of time and effort to the program. Every startup accelerator is what you make of it, so if you want out-of-this-world results, you’ll need to put in the work. 
  • Mindset: You and your team will be expected to work in high-intensity and high-pressure scenarios, so make sure you’re ready for the undertaking. There’s a reason why joining an accelerator improves your startup’s standing: it’s a testament to the time, effort, and learning your team poured into the process.
  • Equity (maybe): Depending on the program, you’ll need to give up a certain amount of equity to join a startup accelerator. (Again, German Accelerator doesn’t require any equity.) 
  • Relocation: If the accelerator program focuses on international expansion, you’ll often need to relocate to the given overseas market for the duration of the particular program.  
  • Openness: A startup accelerator will stretch your current knowledge and experience, so you’ll need to be hungry to learn, ready to grow, and open to feedback and constructive criticism.  



    Joining a startup accelerator isn’t the right choice for every entrepreneur. Startup founders should weigh both the advantages and costs of joining an accelerator and decide what’s best for their team at that particular time. 

    But if your team is in place, and you have your eyes set on the far horizon, it might be the perfect time to join a startup accelerator and scale up like never before.  


    Interested in expanding your German startup into the U.S., Asia, or South America? Check out the equity-free programs offered by German Accelerator and make your dreams of international expansion a reality.