By Sindhu Hariharan / Entrepreneur ME
As an early-stage entrepreneur, a typical day in your life may see you juggling the art of refining your product, along with your efforts to capture those initial sales to win over the market. And though you may be quite adept at this juggling act, you may agree that businesses are rarely built in a vacuum. With a prominent and well-promoted boom in the region today in the entrepreneurship and startups space, there are countless programs, ranging from incubators, accelerators, startup hunts, and other support organizations, to help you grow your company. The challenge then lies in understanding the value of each of these drivers, and ascertaining which one is right for you and your startup.
Consider startup accelerators, for instance. Accelerators are playing an increasingly critical role in building and nurturing entrepreneurial communities around the world, including emerging economies. If you’ve been keeping track of the pace at which new accelerators seem to be launching across the MENA region, you’d be happy to hear what Ian Hathaway in the Harvard Business Review has to say about the role of accelerators: “Early evidence demonstrates significant potential of accelerators to improve startups’ outcomes, and for these benefits to spill over into the broader startup community.” However, the author is quick to note that “the measurable impact” accelerators have on the ecosystem and its participants is the most important factorbut that’s also not too easy to measure. “Not all accelerators are created equally; quality matters,” he notes.
So, what exactly are accelerators, and what is it that makes them a valuable support system for startups, that are often vying with one another to get into an accelerator? Typically, accelerators select startups (usually in their early stages) in batches, and in return for a small share of equity, they offer advice, space, sector guidance, investor connections, and mentorship. Programs usually culminate in what’s usually called a “demo day,” where startups have a chance to pitch to a gathering of investors. While the benefits may seem attractive for any entrepreneur just starting out, and current trends too are heavily stacked in favor of an accelerator program for your early-stage venture, it would be safe to say that entrepreneurs remain quite confused when it comes to decisions on accelerator programs- more so in a nascent entrepreneurship community like that of this region.
So, is an accelerator the right choice for you? If so, what are a few key factors you must be cautious about before getting into one? Well, the journeys of your peers could come in handy to help you navigate your way through this critical decision- and so we talked to a bunch of UAE-based entrepreneurs who have gone through the accelerator program at the Sharjah-based entrepreneurship enabler Sheraa to share their experiences with us- and what the rest of you can learn from them.