The Future of Accelerators, All Online?

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

This article was originally published by Natalie Novick Chief Community Officer at Startup Boost and BoostX March 16th 2020 here

By bringing more programs online, it will be possible to distribute some of the lessons, networks and social capital gains that are developed through accelerator programs beyond local tech hubs. It makes many of these resources that are so often bound up in a few local geographies, accessible to far more than ever before.

Some of you may have seen the announcement last week that Startup Boost’s city programs are moving to an online-only format this Spring due to the impact of COVID-19. It wasn’t a decision made lightly.

A program like Startup Boost depends on many different local partners to make work, including city directors, associates, venues, sponsors, mentors and more. When we realized the growing uncertainty due to the coronavirus could compromise the health and safety of these partners, as well as our teams, moving activities online was the only decision that made sense.

But how can we deliver the same, supportive program in an online-only format? Can we replicate the close, personal connections you get from mentorship digitally? There are certainly synergies that can only happen when people share the same space, but we’re increasingly confident that there are online solutions that can deliver, and in many cases enhance the accelerator experience. The Startup Boost team has been testing them out as we’ve been following the growing, worrying news of the pandemic virus and we’ve been finding some compelling alternatives. We’re not alone.

Some of Silicon Valley’s most notable accelerator programs such as First Round’s Technical Founder Track (applications due March 20th), On Deck (Fellowship #3) and Y Combinator (summer 2020 cohort may be entirely virtual) have also recognized this challenge, and are in the process of turning their future programs into remote ones (or strongly exploring it as an option). I have it on good authority that a few other big-name accelerator programs will be announcing online programs as well in the coming days.

Aside from the COVID-19 crisis, online accelerator programs have an incredible opportunity to source the best founders, and best potential from anywhere. It’s part of the reason why created BoostX in the first place, because it follows what we’ve been seeing all across the global ecosystem — talent is everywhere, but opportunity is unevenly distributed. While this story is continually told, few have been working to address it. Developed late last year, BoostX is an online-only digital platform for founders from everywhere. Our current membership includes teams from every continent, working together, helping and sharing with one another. In this online-only, geographically agnostic space, I’m continually blown away by some of the amazing founders that have come to BoostX and whose startups are bound to make a real impact, far beyond the communities they currently reside.

They might be far from the eyes of the world’s top investors and incubator programs where they live, but anywhere else, they would be impressive in some of the world’s most competitive ecosystems.

This shows the true potential of an online platform, which can support and enable founders from everywhere without the inefficiency, expense and personal cost of moving to an entirely new market to take part in an accelerator program. It enables programs to source the very best teams, and very best projects from all over the world. It opens up an entirely new playing field of opportunity that should be embraced.

Will it be possible to replicate that accelerator experience completely online, without sacrificing some of the magic that takes place when we’re all together? Some things will certainly be different. But we’re willing to try. We’ve seen accelerator programs elsewhere long using the online-first model, including BeChangeMaker’s Social Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme, and the Startup Wise Guys pre-accelerator program so we know that this model is more than possible.

Ultimately, by bringing more programs online, it will be possible to distribute some of the lessons, networks and social capital gains that are developed through accelerator programs beyond local tech hubs. It makes many of these resources that are so often bound up in a few local geographies, accessible to far more than ever before. More importantly, geographically-agnostic programs help to support a greater diversity of teams, thought processes, and ultimately, more resilient startups. The impact of this will be transformative. While it’s unfortunate that it took a pandemic for many to recognize the value of moving things online — it’s long been high time to do it.

A previous version of this piece appeared on BoostX, Startup Boost’s digital-first community for founders from everywhere. BoostX launched late 2019. You can find out more and join the waiting list here: community.startupboost.org

FoundersBoost is a global pre-accelerator program with a mission to lead pre-seed stage startups towards Accelerators, Investment, and Revenue.