Recently, I was fortunate to be part of the judging panel for Start-Up Chile, one of the largest government-led acceleration programs in the world. Its mission is to attract early-stage, high-potential startups, offering entrepreneurs the chance to bootstrap their companies in Chile and proving a platform to go global. Selected entrepreneurs are given a visa, some cash and access to the best of the Chilean investment and social communities.

Similarly, in Toronto we’ve recently launched JOLT, an accelerator based here at MaRS. Our goal is to foster the success of the best high-growth web and mobile companies, with a clear emphasis on designing ‘wickedly good’ user experiences. In addition to workspace and seed capital, JOLT startups gain access to an incredible network of 80+ industry experts, entrepreneurs and investors, all offering their expertise with an emphasis on accelerating growth.

JOLT workspace — 5,500-square-foot space with 75 co-working seats

Interested in joining an accelerator program?

My advice to those interested in these types of programs is to not only think globally in terms of the programs available, but to also clearly define how the program will help you turn your vision into reality.

I recommend you keep the following in mind when evaluating an accelerator:

  1. The types of capital and terms being offered, and how they will help your startup’s development.
  2. The breadth and depth of the advisory team as it relates to programming.
  3. The industry experts on the accelerator’s roster in terms of how they can help you.
  4. The types of networking opportunities the accelerator offers.

Next, I suggest you assess how the accelerator program will help guide you through the ‘customer discovery’ process. The steps are captured nicely in Steve Blank’s The Startup Owner’s Manual and summarized here:

  1. Customer discovery: Captures the founder’s vision and develops a plan to test the business model.
  2. Customer validation: Tests whether the resulting business model is repeatable and scalable.
  3. Customer creation: The start of execution, it builds end-user demand and drives it into the sales channel to scale the business.
  4. Company-building: Transitions the organization from a startup to a company focused on executing a validated model.

In a startup, the founders define the product vision and then use customer discovery to find the customers and market for that vision. As a result, your choice of an accelerator may also depend on its proximity to the market where you will turn your vision into reality.

Last, but not least: The application

Lastly, you have to think about the accelerator application itself. Besides being ‘ready’ in both your personal and professional life, you will have to complete an in-depth application and be ready for rounds of reviews. This must be taken seriously, no ‘ifs, ands or buts’ about it. My colleague, Ryan Poissant, Advisor in the MaRS ICE practice, provides four key tips on completing accelerator applications in his JOLT blog, Getting in: Four keys to writing a solid accelerator application:

  1. Team and traction trump everything.
  2. Get in early!
  3. Do the legwork.
  4. Honesty is always the best policy.

Once you’ve reviewed the steps above, you just might be ready to change the world, and an accelerator program might help you do so. But first, you have to apply!

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

Nathan Monk

Nathan is a Sr. Strategist, Customer Development and Mentor within the Info. technology, Communications and Entertainment (ICE) practice here at MaRS. He is a Champion of Customer Development helping startups navigate the forest for the trees and reduce the risk of failure. Follow him @cowboytweets. See more…