Fast-track your startup growth through an accelerator

TOPICS: Entrepreneurship , Innovation , Leadership , Marketing , Networking , Hong Kong , North America , Worldwide

by Paul Orlando

As technology advances briskly and enables innovative thoughts to be brought to life more handily, the stream of people looking for entrepreneurial achievement seems stronger than ever. A startup, though, is hardly guaranteed success on the basis of a good idea alone. I’ve enjoyed a thriving career as a founder of multiple accelerators on three different continents and have seen excellent results from startups that triumph thanks to the support of an accelerator. 

By design, accelerators are built to provide guidance and support to startups so they can become an attractive target for potential investors for funding. A well-run accelerator should have the following traits:

  1. A team of people with proven track records in building and running successful startups;
     
  2. A team of people with connections to the right customers and investors;
     
  3. A team of people dedicated to providing both industry and functional mentoring;
     
  4. A community of other founders similar to you.

Oftentimes, especially when a startup is still in its incubation or pre-funding phase, the primary goal is validating their product or business idea. However, an idea is only feasible, and often times, fundable by investors if they sense a demand from consumers. Identifying that viability is what I see as the biggest benefit a startup founder or co-founder can gain from being part of an accelerator — especially in a city like Hong Kong.

A few years ago when I ran the city’s first-ever funded accelerator, AcceleratorHK, I came across a number of startups that were trying to replicate product ideas that had proven successful elsewhere in the world, although many missed out on a crucial step in the process. An enormous benefit of being in an accelerator is surrounding yourself with a like-minded and experienced community dedicated to helping validate your idea with hard data, and perhaps even more importantly, testing it before forming a larger decision about its potential for success. For founders looking at how ideas that worked elsewhere might translate to another place, quick data-gathering experiments can be the key to making a sound decision, thereby leaving less to theory, reducing potential risks, and learning even more about the market you seek to be part of. 

Being a part of an accelerator, especially one that have had the right community of experts from both Hong Kong and other countries could be highly beneficial for you as an entrepreneur. 

While in a short time Hong Kong’s tech entrepreneurship market has expanded — a number of funded accelerators have since followed my lead — startups here still haven’t reached the same level of operational ease in cities such as Los Angeles, where hiring and bringing on investors is much more commonplace. There’s inarguably an advantage to being in markets that have already reached critical mass working on and funding startups, yet Hong Kong is nonetheless showing healthy signs of growth, especially considering how much smaller this specific market is compared to similarly size metropolises.  

For startup founders in Hong Kong, it would be wise to focus on the city’s unique local strengths, which, to me, include the ability to connect with and meet people very quickly — especially faster than in most places in the U.S., for example. Hong Kong-based founders, students and potential entrepreneurs should also remain committed to their ideas while also continuing to search for innovation in industries that have historically performed well regionally. Being a part of an accelerator, especially one that have had the right community of experts from both Hong Kong and other countries could be highly beneficial for you as an entrepreneur. 

Keeping an open mind to the sometimes-difficult task of changing course or pivoting to areas more suited to your strengths can be the difference between a win and a loss.

Just being a part of an accelerator does not guarantee success and as a startup entrepreneur, remember to remain coachable.  It’s imperative to be receptive to recommendations from people outside of their team who have solid expertise and bring a fresh set of eyes and a proven and unique perspective. 

Keeping an open mind to the sometimes-difficult task of changing course or pivoting to areas more suited to their strengths can be the difference between a win and a loss. Joining a startup can be full of risks, but being among the right people can help greatly reduce your exposure and an accelerator just might be the right place for you to do that. 
 

About the Author

Paul has founded and operated successful startup accelerator programs in Hong Kong (AcceleratorHK, Hong Kong's first accelerator, which was focused on mobile development), Los Angeles (focus on wide-ranging company growth of companies with founders affiliated with USC), and the Laudato Si accelerator affiliated with the Vatican in Rome (focused on environmental technology). He recently built the Incubator at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles and is also a Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University.

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