Over the past eight months we have participated in two well known business accelerator programmes, Propel and LaunchPad. For the greater good I felt it might be useful to share some of my thoughts on the pros/cons of each.
1. Propel is currently run on behalf of Enterprise Ireland (EI) by PA consulting. In our case the programme was split into two phases. Phase 1 involved ~20 companies and was run over a number of 1day seminars. These seminars were designed to help promoters flesh out their propositions a bit and develop a first pass elevator pitch. Promoters were told from the start that only 10 companies would progress to phase two so there was a healthy competitive element to the programme from the start. In my experience the people who openly participated and were receptive to constructive criticism were the companies that ultimately progressed to phase 2. Phase 2 was run over 6 months and involved 10 companies. Most companies received CORD funding and desk space at a location of their choosing. My phase 2 pros and cons:
- Great participation and support from other companies involved.
- Great speakers who were willing to share their experience.
- Challenging environment. The programme consistently challenged your assumptions about your target market.
- I would say the programme is too long. 12 weeks should be enough for a minimal viable product and market validation.
- A little heavy on business theory at times.
- There was no prize money on the table for the final pitches or overall winner. This took the competitive edge out of the programme a bit.
Overall opinion: Go for it, you’ll learn a lot and it will knock some corners off your proposition.
2. LaunchPad at the NDRC started in January 2011 and ran for 12 weeks. There were 10 companies selected to participate. Companies received €5k per promoter and €5k expenses, desk space and services. Unlike Propel it was a requirement that all companies be based at the NDRC. Throughout the programme there was a heavy emphasis on applying the lean start-up methodology to projects. The brief from the LaunchPad team from day 1 was focus on commercial viability because technical viability is pretty much a given. This forced many of us out of our comfort zone toward our market and customers. My LaunchPad pros and cons
- Positive, constructive work space.
- The heavy emphasis on messaging and presentation was great for us.
- Focussed competitive energy between companies throughout the programme.
- You have to give up equity. Of course this can viewed as a positive too as it gives you negotiating experience in a safe environment.
- Weak on connections and door-opening. This was our experience with both Propel and LaunchPad.
- There is no support for business plan preparation which most investors and EI require for any kind of funding.
Overall opinion: Go for it, great programme and a great place to accelerate an idea.
Final thoughts: In my view every first time start-up should look to do at least one accelerator programme. The reality is that there is so much that you need to know when you start a business and attempting it in isolation will be challenging in the extreme.