Are Startup Accelerators Helpful?

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I was initially unsure whether an accelerator was right for my startup, MommaZoo. Here are five reasons I'm happy we took the plunge and are now participating in ImagineK12.  By Catheryne Nicholson (Co-Founder & CEO, MommaZoo)

It all started with a tweet from Paul Graham Imagine K12 is a startup accelerator for education technology companies. Modeled after Y Combinator, it’s an intense four-month program featuring weekly partner reviews, sessions with high-profile education entrepreneurs, and pitches to educators and investors.

Since MommaZoo is an education technology company, Imagine K12 seemed right up our alley. But before Paul Graham’s tweet, I never considered participating in an accelerator. I hardly fit the profile of the newly graduated college hacker that accelerator programs are designed for: I’m the mother of two, I’m way out of college, and I’m not male.

My co-founder, Matthieu, and I applied to Imagine K12 as a long shot. When we got the call offering us a spot in their winter class, we were too stunned to say anything other than "can we get back to you tomorrow?" For the next 24 hours, we debated whether an accelerator could really help us. A final gut check made us go for it.

We are now halfway through Imagine K12’s program. We’re happy to report that our decision was one of the best we’ve made. Here’s what’s been invaluable for us:

Your Baby Is Ugly

Honest, brutal feedback from very knowledgeable, dedicated people is precious. In education, teachers are often too nice to tell you your product is terrible. They just won’t use it and you’ll never know why. Parents will give you feedback but it’s rarely tractable (we simply have too many problems) and scheduling time with them requires rotating the earth backwards. The continuous feedback Imagine K12 gives us has made MommaZoo immeasurably better.

Iterate. Faster.

Imagine K12 includes events (like demo days) that act as forcing functions to improve your product faster than you thought possible. Schools have rhythms that you must be mindful of. If you don’t iterate fast and time your product changes appropriately, you may miss those windows of opportunity.

Network Effect

When you’re a startup, it’s almost impossible to get the attention of educators. Imagine K12 brings them to you, makes the introductions and validates your purpose. You meet luminaries and influencers in the field and learn from their mistakes and successes.

In the Same Boat

In education, a unique blend of consumer and enterprise models is necessary. This makes the startup road even more challenging: EdTech is carving a new path. Having other entrepreneurs in the same boat to help, inspire and boost you up when you’re at your low makes a big difference.

More Women

Teachers and educators are mostly women and so it makes all the sense in the world for women to start EdTech companies. And yet, look at the number of women founders: it’s dismal (ladies, check out Edukwest and tell me what you see on their homepage. Can you believe it was started by a woman blogger?!) Now look at the number of women founders in Imagine K12’s portfolio: it’s a breath of fresh air.

What Imagine K12 cannot do (or any accelerator, for that matter) is give you the magic recipe to make your startup succeed. You still need to find it yourself by working harder than you ever have and incrementing relentlessly.

Most startups fail. However, we have no doubt MommaZoo’s chances got better with Imagine K12 at our backs.

Between now and April 2, 2013, MommaZoo is running a Teacher Raffle. To enter:

  1. Register. Register on www.mommazoo.com.
  2. Invite. Invite your class parents and use MommaZoo with them.
  3. Feedback. Send us feedback and we’ll enter you in the raffle!
  4. Increase your odds. Refer other teachers/room parents and tell us by emailing contact@mommazoo.com. As soon as your referral registers on MommaZoo, you get an additional raffle. The more people you refer, the greater your chances of winning!

Winner will be notified by email.

About the guest blogger: Catheryne Nicholson is Co-Founder and CEO at MommaZoo. Between her multiple jobs and motherhood, she's always multi-tasking. Back when she had the luxury to concentrate on single tasks, she built energy and emissions management, CRM, and defense software for C3, Siebel Systems, and Northrop-Grumman. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering, a Master of Science in Environmental Engineering, an MBA and is a registered Professional Engineer in Mechanical Engineering. Image courtesy of Flickr user Nathan E. Photography