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What’s it like to take part in an accelerator?

May 18, 2012

Ever wondered what it’s like to join an accelerator program? If you think you’re ready to apply to MaRS’ new accelerator program, JOLT, but would like to know what you’re in for, read on.

The following post is courtesy of entrepreneur Winston Mok, CEO of Simply Good Technologies, a company working on mobile couponing based on influence. Originally from Toronto, Mok headed to Boston in January to participate in the TechStars accelerator program there. His company was the first from Toronto to be accepted into the program. Here’s his account of the accelerator experience.

Out of 1,000 applicants for the TechStars Boston startup accelerator program, we were fortunate enough to have been one of the 13 startups selected. My perseverance and passion led me to say to Katie Rae, the managing director of TechStars Boston: “I know applications have long closed, but I want this. And if you’re willing to consider us, I will be back here first thing tomorrow.” Little did I realize that was just the beginning—and over the span of 100 days our business would go through an amazing transformation.

At TechStars we were surrounded by great mentors, including Bill Warner, the founder of Avid Technology Inc., and Fred Destin, a partner at Atlas Venture. Through strong mentorship, an amazing network and a collaborative environment, we were able to quickly pivot our startup’s core proposition and establish significant traction. I vividly remember a pivotal mentor session with TechStars founder Dave Cohen in which he said: “Embrace the market you want to pursue—and crush it.”

In addition to all of the entrepreneurial classes that were offered (investments, legal, public relations and more), one of my favourite events was the weekly closed-door, no-tweeting-allowed inspirational “founder story” session. Guest speakers included Eran Egozy, the co-founder and chief technical officer of Harmonix Music Systems (the creators of Guitar Hero), and Nabeel Hyatt, the founder and CEO of social gaming company Conduit Labs, now Zynga. These sessions gave a true behind-the-scenes look at technology entrepreneurship from some highly recognized companies. Ever wonder what it feels like to cash a $175 million cheque at your local bank? Just ask Eran.

For the program finale—Demo Day—the CEO of each startup had a five-minute presentation to pitch to hundreds of investors. Leading up to “D-Day,” these founders practised their pitches daily, getting feedback from mentors.

I had a grueling time with our pitch. With only one week to go, I completely blanked out during a practice, which was a major wake-up call. A blessing in disguise, it pushed me to persist and persevere, and my presentation ended up stronger than ever. In fact, it was selected as Demo Day’s opening pitch!

Looking back, one of the most valuable parts of the TechStars program was spending time with the other startup founders. We formed a sort of bond, as if we were all part of a “summer camp” for startups. We hosted our own barbecues, house parties, bar gatherings and dinners, which helped create a clear line of trust between us all, sort of like a startup support group. We’d often share information in confidence—collectively giving us strength, unity and a balanced perspective—not to mention way too many man-hugs.

Since then, I’ve been fortunate to meet with MaRS advisors Susan McGill (the Executive Director of JOLT) and Ryan Poissant to share my experiences about being the first Toronto company to participate in TechStars. I’m thrilled to hear about the JOLT accelerator program and how it will mirror many of the experiences we had in Boston, especially because I think this is something Toronto really needs.

With the wealth of great talent and ideas in this city, JOLT is set to be the catalyst that pushes Toronto’s startup community to the next level.

Interested in seeing how JOLT can accelerate your startup? You have until May 30, 2012 to submit an application.

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Winston Mok

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Winston Mok is the co-founder and CEO of Simply Good Technologies, a company working on mobile couponing based on influence.

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