Accelerators in review: startup founders on the USA’s top accelerator programs
Accelerators
 • 
Dec 19, 2021

Accelerators in review: startup founders on the USA’s top accelerator programs

Esmé Ara’resa
Esmé Ara’resa
Community Manager at Propel
Esmé Ara’resa
Esmé Ara’resa
Community Manager at Propel

“Accelerators are playing an increasing role in startup communities throughout the United States and beyond. Early evidence demonstrates the significant potential of accelerators to improve startups’ outcomes.” - Ian Hathaway, Investor and Strategic Advisor

In the early days of Propel last year, we put together a scrappy document analyzing the top accelerators, venture studios, launchpads, and Founder-in-Residence programs in the US. The Great Resignation of 2021 brings pre-seed accelerators specifically into focus today. As more people leave corporate America and bet on themselves, access to support, community, and funding make accelerators a compelling option for entrepreneurs today.

Accelerator programs are also increasing in quantity and popularity, and they continue to promise advantages to tech startups while maintaining high barriers to entry and extensive application and/or selection processes. Other program promises include: direct investment and introductions to external investors (a typical priority in Year 1 of building), expert mentorship throughout the validation process, skillset development to help founders push their young businesses forward, and more.

But with over 1,000 programs in the USA alone and more launching by the moment, evaluating which accelerator is the right fit for you is a tall order. Rather than assessing exit numbers or investments made, this resource offers the honest and personal experiences of entrepreneurs in Propel who have been there and participated in an accelerator or accelerator-like program.

As Propel is a community for early-stage and aspiring founders, think of this as “For Propel by Propel.”


Participated in a different accelerator program? Share your experience to help make this more comprehensive. We’re interested in more categories and geographies across America and worldwide!

How we reviewed the accelerators

We asked three questions of entrepreneurs in our community:

1. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the quality of your experience with the accelerator program? 1 being poor, 10 being exceptional.

2. What’s one highlight of your time in the program?

3. What’s one area for improvement for the program?


Read their reviews.

Pioneer

Described as the outsider’s accelerator, Pioneer now takes 2% equity from its participants for $20,000. The Propel Builder who participated in the program joined Pioneer in 2020 prior to this deal and shares that the community is full of young engineers from all over the world.

Q: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the quality of your experience with the accelerator program? 1 being poor, 10 being exceptional.

PB’s rating: 9

Q: What’s one highlight of your time at the program?
PB: Direct, 1:1 feedback from Daniel Gross. In terms of resources, Pioneer has a really active community. There's a Slack channel, events with impressive people, smaller group events, a trip to SF, and software deals.

Q: What’s one area for improvement at the program?
PB: The core advising part of the program was only 4 weeks long (although there are plenty of supplemental activities afterwards).

Newchip

Currently participating in the program, this Propel Builder shared with us that the Newchip program cost $7000 to participate in and guarantees a number of investor meetings. He found the application review intensive and was admitted as one of 110 participants out of the 1400 startups that applied.

Q: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the quality of your experience with the accelerator program? 1 being poor, 10 being exceptional.
PB’s rating: 10

Q: What’s one highlight of your time at the program?
PB: When Newchip puts us in front of their investors, they have a very rigorous process to make sure the pitch is in the right place. You know how to talk to the business, have learned from the coursework, and have applied the feedback given to you by the mentor you are paired with. The mentors include startup founders who have exited, leaders that have worked at a F500 company, etc.

Q: What's one area for improvement at the program?

The program is a bit cumbersome and the timelines for things aren't very clear.

Hyper Accelerator

This review comes from a Propel Builder who completed the Hyper Accelerator in 2020. They paid $1,000 upfront in order to participate. They felt it was the perfect program for them at the stage they were in – having an idea and some hunches on the pain points and features.


Q: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the quality of your experience with the accelerator program? 1 being poor, 10 being exceptional.
PB’s rating: 8

Q: What’s one highlight of your time at the program?
PB: As a global accelerator Hyper offers the opportunity to connect with and learn from builders in other geographies and start to understand different approaches to building a business.

Q: What’s one area for improvement at the program?
PB: The program missed the context of how investors think about and evaluate startups.

Y Combinator

Y Combinator is an accelerator based in Silicon Valley, though their program is currently remote. Big companies like Airbnb, Stripe, Dropbox, and many other well-known startups have come out of their ecosystem. Historically, the application volume is high and both interview and acceptance ratios are low. Acceptance into YC can be seen as a stamp of approval. Today, Y Combinator invests $125k in return for 7% of your company using a “post-money” Simple Agreement for Future Equity (the “YC Safe”). This Propel Builder participated in 2021.

Q: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the quality of your experience with the accelerator program? 1 being poor, 10 being exceptional.
PB’s rating: 7

Q: What’s one highlight of your time at the program?
PB: The highlight of YC is the brand name and impact afterward. On the whole, it can stand out when connecting with investors and talent you're hiring.

Q: What’s one area for improvement at the program?

PB: I'd like to see them reconsider taking a 7% stake in every YC company. It has implications down the line when raising from seed funds.

Antler 

Shifting the dynamic in how accelerators are typically run, Antler paid participants a $3,000 monthly stipend for the 3 month program (as of 2019 when a Propel Builder applied and was accepted). As 1 out of an initial cohort of 95 participants, they soon experienced a bottleneck in finding a cofounder within the program. They share that the program then expanded to 130 participants by the end.

Q: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the quality of your experience with the accelerator program? 1 being poor, 10 being exceptional.
PB’s rating: 6

Q: What’s one highlight of your time at the program?
PB: The highlight of the Antler program is definitely the people that run it and those it attracts. They are great at supporting good people and helping them build things from scratch.

Q: What’s one area for improvement at the program?

PB: The upfront expectations can be improved, as well as the operations surrounding how they are communicated and managed. The expectations were related to investment that Antler would make in a handful of startups. They'd originally said $100k, though increased the amount and invested in fewer companies, which changed the valuation and ratio dynamics. This was the first NYC cohort, so this may have changed since.

Transcend

An accelerator that comes highly recommended to edtech founders by this Propel Builder, Transcend offers programs for different stages in an entrepreneur’s journey. As a participant in 2021, they were highly impressed with this accelerator.


Q: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the quality of your experience with the accelerator program? 1 being poor, 10 being exceptional.
PB’s rating: 10

Q: What’s one highlight of your time at the program?
PB: The ability to learn from peers with years of experience in edtech and startup professionals. The participant mix meant that there was a good balance of fresh perspective with expert insight. 

Q: What’s one area for improvement at the program?

PB: I feel that the program was not long enough. More time spent on the topics and meeting other participants would take the experience to the next level.

Founded in Philly by Philly Startup Leaders

Founded in Philly is a self-guided program that provides a great curriculum. Participants were at different stages and took what they needed from the curriculum to work on their challenges individually. This Propel Builder shares their experience at Founded in Philly in 2021 and reflects on the accelerator space more broadly.

Q: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the quality of your experience with the accelerator program? 1 being poor, 10 being exceptional.
PB’s rating: 7

Q: What’s one highlight of your time at the program?
PB: The network that comes along with an accelerator. A lot of the time, accelerators are strongly associated with professional networks. I now can use the accelerator's name to reach out and have a good chance of getting a response to literally thousands of people.

Q: What’s one area for improvement at the program?

PB: I think this is something that every accelerator struggles with, but just providing a more personalized curriculum. Being responsible to sit in every week and complete work is sometimes unhelpful if you haven't yet reached a specific topic area in your journey.

On Deck Founders Program

Costing approximately $3,000, the Founders program at On Deck previously ran for 8-10 weeks and now offers access to a 1 year community. Completed in 2021 by two builders at Propel, in this review they share candidly the benefits and drawbacks in their experience. Recently, On Deck rolled out a Y Combinator-esque accelerator ($125,000 investment at 7%) called ODX and expects all of their founders to participate in ODX if they launch a company within 1 year of joining. Propel Builders have not participated in this at the point of publishing this resource.

Q: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the quality of your experience with the accelerator program? 1 being poor, 10 being exceptional.
PB’s rating: 6


Q: What’s one highlight of your time at the program?
PB: On Deck’s vetting process ensures that your peers in the program are all high quality founders.

Q: What’s one area for improvement at the program?

PB: The program pushes for engagement via activity in Slack over activities that feel more intentional and high value. There were attempts to "matchmake" but the community managers barely knew anything about the members.


Have you completed any of these accelerators? How are you finding it? Loved (or hated) a program that we didn’t cover? Get in touch and share your experience.
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