Common mistakes founders make in accelerator program applications

And how to fix them

If you want to fast-track your business growth, startup accelerators may be the game changer you need to be better positioned for success. By getting selected for good quality programs you increase your chances of getting noticed by top Venture Capital firms and angel investors.

At VC4A, we’ve reviewed thousands of accelerator, bootcamp, competition, fellowship and challenge applications over the span of 10+ years either for opportunities created by VC4A or programs developed with our clients. After going through a ton of submissions, we’ve noticed that it’s not so much the businesses or founders that are the problem, but rather the quality of the applications themselves.

To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of the most frequent blunders to steer clear of when applying for startup programs:

  1. Insufficient research
  2. Lack of clarity
  3. You are giving a lecture
  4. You did not show traction

Let’s go into detail about why these mistakes matter and what you can do to fix them.

Insufficient research

Judges can quickly spot if you’ve neglected to read the application brief before submitting. If the opportunity is for health tech startups in Eastern Africa and your startup is a fintech from West Africa, your application may get rejected after a quick scan. That’s significant effort gone down the drain.

How to fix this:
Startup opportunities featured on the VC4A platform include an overview of the program including eligibility, benefits, timelines and FAQs. Take advantage of any additional information sessions or Q&A opportunities. Familiarize yourself with the program’s requirements and don’t hesitate to reach out for more information.

To give yourself a competitive edge, take a deep dive into the organization and their past cohorts to understand the types of startups they tend to accept into their programs.

Lack of clarity

Your application only has a brief moment to make an impression, so it’s crucial to use that time wisely. While some reviewers may take a more in-depth look, others may only give it a quick scan. Either way, it’s up to you to present your business in the best possible light with what opportunity you have. This is not the time to be vague.

How to fix this:
Be clear and be concise. Write about who you are and what you do as if the reader has no prior understanding of your startup or your industry.

While crafting your application, keep in mind to emphasize the problem you’re solving, thereby helping you minimize unnecessary elements.

You are giving a lecture

In the book “Actual minds, possible worlds” by Jerome Bruner, he says “facts are approximately 22 times more likely to be remembered if they are part of a story”. Remember that less is often more. A well-structured application form will usually have a designated section for showcasing your traction. There, you can add relevant data and statistics.

How to fix this:
A lecture challenges you to think, whereas a story lets you experience a situation as if you were in it yourself. While it is not an absolute guarantee that your application will be selected, writing about your solution while telling a story increases the chances of your application getting a full review. Storytelling gets the reader invested in your company.

This brings us to the last point.

You did not show traction

Many entrepreneurs confuse traction with revenue and often miss this in their applications. Traction is the rate at which your business is growing – number of users over time, daily or monthly active users, your team growth, among various other metrics. It is what gives program organizers the added confidence that what you are building is sticky.

How to fix this:
For early-stage businesses in the prototype or idea stage, it is fairly common to not have enough traction to show. Instead, show them the steps you’re taking to achieve sustained traction and generate revenue. Remember, accelerators back founders, not just businesses.

Bonus tip: 

Stay plugged-in. Accelerators come in many different packages. This means there’s no one singular approach to ace an application and also get selected.

In the event that you follow all our advice for your startup application yet don’t get selected, don’t lose hope. You might simply need a little more preparation; See certificate courses for founders. You should also consider getting guidance and inspiration with help from other successful entrepreneurs; See mentors.

Finally, do not get discouraged if you try but don’t get selected. This doesn’t change the fact that you are still building a company that has the potential to succeed. Don’t be afraid to reapply when the next one comes.