By Abby Lyall, Program Director at Big Idea Ventures
For founders raising capital, the feedback process can be frustratingly opaque. It’s hard to understand the real criteria investors are looking for, and it can be tempting for founders to believe that reasons for rejection like “too early” or “not our thesis” are just excuses. At Big Idea Ventures, we care about being transparent; understanding what we’re looking for gives you a better chance at receiving investment and also helps us get the information we need to make the best decisions possible. Read on to take a peek inside our heads and learn about four important things that matter when preparing your accelerator application.
1) Be Different. The landscape for alternative protein startups is heating up, and with popularity comes competition—and copycats. The BIV team looks at hundreds of startups in the plant-based and cell-based space each month; in order to invest in your company, we need to understand what makes it special. Are you using a unique ingredient? Have you developed a proprietary process? What’s going to differentiate your product from everything else that’s on the shelf or the menu?
We are focused on investing in big ideas—products that have the potential to become global, billion dollar businesses. If you can tell us what you’re doing that’s creative and different, and how you plan to maintain that advantage as you grow, you’re definitely starting your application off on the right foot.
2) Be Desirable. There’s at least one thing that startup investors and teenagers have in common—FOMO. For the uninitiated, FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out, means concern over losing a great potential deal that everyone else is talking about; it’s a phenomenon well-recognized in the venture community. We may be investing in companies that most haven’t heard of yet, but understanding how what you’re building is desirable and relevant to the rest of the world is still an important piece of our due diligence process.
How do you show your company’s desirability on a simple accelerator application? Interest from other investors is one way, but may not be realistic for a company at your stage. A referral from someone in our network (a mentor, for example) or a warm introduction to a member of the BIV team can go a long way as well.
The most powerful measure of desirability, though, is through your customers and strategic partners. We may love your product, but in order for your business to be successful, it’s important that other people also want it enough to buy it. If you have revenue numbers to illustrate this, great; if not, there are plenty of other ways for young startups to show traction. Do you have early commitments, or LOIs, from purchasers? Do you have a strong brand following on social media or mentions in the press? Show us how the world loves you, and we’ll be quick to follow.
3) Be Concise. During our last application cycle, the team at Big Idea Ventures reviewed over 200 applications and had a one-week timeline for our initial screening process. Never assume, in any communication with an investor, that they will be sitting down and reading your application, email or pitch deck like a novel– unfortunately, we often end up reading non-chronologically or trying to do multiple things at once. It’s in your best interest to communicate as concisely as possible, in short, clear sentences that have no chance of confusing the reader.
What’s the best length for an answer to an accelerator application question? For those questions that require more than a one-word or multiple-choice answer, I recommend writing a short paragraph of only 3-5 sentences. Applications that contain huge walls of text are often skimmed rather than read, which hurts your ability to get your message across to our due diligence team; there will be plenty of time for digging into the details at the interview stages. Attaching supplemental materials, like video clips and pitch decks, can also illustrate the points you’re trying to make.
Remember that the point of the application is only to get you to the next step in our due diligence process—it’s not meant to secure you an investment on its own! Every fund, BIV included, is going to conduct a many-layered due diligence process before writing a check; your application is only the first step.
4) Be You. In early stage startup investing, the one decision-making factor that consistently holds true across all funds’ theses is the strength of the founding team. The reason for this is simple—a company that’s the right stage for an accelerator is rarely going to have much by way of revenue, or accurate numbers to put into a financial projection sheet. Early stage startups are risky, and investors that fund them are placing bets on big ideas and the founders who are committed to building them.
So what qualities are accelerators looking for in a founder? Although having a strong network and relevant industry experience can be helpful when launching a company, we aren’t just looking for brand-name logos and fancy degrees. More importantly, we want to see that you’re resilient and passionate about the mission of your company: not someone who is going to give up easily. We want to see evidence that you’re ethical, honest, and trustworthy: good stewards of the capital we’re going to give you. We want to see that you’re coachable and respond well to feedback: from customers, mentors, other investors, and us. And we want to like you: we’ll be sitting next to you in an office for the next five months, and hopefully continuing to build the relationship for years after!
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen founders make in the due diligence process is handing over the reins to someone they believe to be “more qualified” to speak on a certain topic than they are. We aren’t interested in talking to your investor, or your consultant, or someone with more financial modeling experience in your place. We want to hear from YOU, the founder who is putting everything on the line and making the sacrifices necessary to take your company from vision to reality.
So there you have it—four tips for making your accelerator application stand out. If you’ve built a solid foundation for your business, with a strong founding team, most of your work is done already! Don’t wait— tell us more about your alt-protein startup at https://bigideaventures.com/apply/.