How to create a standout application to an accelerator

Published 17 October 2022
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How can your application blow the competition away?

Hey Founder! So you want to scale your business and think joining an accelerator programme is the way to go? Great start! We agree, but how can you create an application that will stand out from other start-ups?

At The Baobab Network (TBN), we receive thousands of applications for each cohort, but we can only support a few. How do we make the distinction just by looking at the applications?

Get to know the programme

We know that at this stage in your founder journey, you may be overwhelmed and looking for all kinds of support, but it is important to ensure that an accelerator programme is a right fit for you. Are the terms are amenable to you? What is the mission of the programme? Does it align with your business and goals?

You should ensure that your business is in the right stage, for instance, at TBN, we provide hands-on support to really early-stage tech businesses in Africa. We don’t invest in ideas but if you have a working MVP with some traction and are seeking pre-seed funding, we may be the right fit. Take a look at the About Us and FAQ pages before applying to make sure you are applying to the right partner for your acceleration.

Be prepared

As with any other process where you may seek funding or support, some documentation is required of you. At this stage of your founder journey, a pitch deck is recommended. These are a few slides giving us a brief and clear description of your business and the problem you are trying to solve. It’s also important to provide information on what you have done, your team, and what your goals are.

There are great sources and templates for pitch decks such as:

Part of the TBN accelerator programme is focused on fundraising so don’t worry if it isn’t perfect, should you join us, you will polish your pitch deck during the programme, but version 1 at this point is useful for the admissions team to get to know you and your business.

It is also helpful if you can include files showing your cap table and traction, for our review team to understand your company better, and a product demo video showing how your solution works. We have an easy-to-use template for the traction file and cap table, feel free to duplicate them and fill in your details for your accelerator application.

The capitalisation (cap) table outlines the ownership of your company which is valuable to accelerators who give equity assistance. The traction file provides an understanding of how you make money and shows proof of concept as paying customers validate your idea.

Don’t be shy

Now is not the time for modesty- if you want your application to stand out, you have to put your best foot forward! Feel free to share all your successes and goals- this demonstrates an understanding of your idea, your hopes, and your understanding of the market you are in. Share your progress and let us know what you have been able to achieve so far.

While it is great to celebrate your wins, be pragmatic. When forecasting, do not oversell your business and keep your goals achievable and informed.

Wanjiku Kimani, who leads the selection and growth of our portfolio companies, says “We love to see a data-driven team that is actively unpacking deep market insights as they build the businesses. We are also big fans of excellent execution with lots of momentum. Tell us what you’ve learnt about your customers, market or product. What have your failures taught you?

We want to work with founders who are deeply invested in understanding what works and what doesn’t work. We also want to see our founders tackling big problems in big markets.”

Honesty is the best policy

We look at the relationship with our portfolio companies as a long-term relationship as we partner with our founders for the long haul. We, therefore, expect (and provide) transparency. Over the course of the 12-week accelerator programme, we will get to know a lot about each other so there’s no point in hiding anything at this stage.

What’s more, the more we know, the better we are able we are to make a decision. A lot of the questions are optional, but the more info you provide, the more the admissions team can understand your business and gauge your fit for the accelerator programme.

Tell a story

At TBN, we are big fans of a good story. Yes, you provide a cross-border payment solution- but what inspired you to start your FinTech? Let us know. How did you and your team decide to work together? What are the highlights and challenges of your founder’s journey? Facts are great, but anecdotes make all the difference- remember, we invest in the team just as much as the business.

Great storytelling makes all the difference between a well-funded start-up vs one struggling to close a funding round. In the case of your application, our team enjoys a good story over a bland application.

Don’t give up

As any of our founders can tell you, persistence is key in starting and growing your business. Please do keep in mind that the application process is the same for everyone and we are only able to accept the top ~1% of the applications we receive. While you may not be the right fit for a particular cohort, it’s not the end of the road. We love to keep in touch with businesses we believe in, so if you are not the right fit at the moment, feel free to re-apply later or keep us updated on your growth!

There has never been a better time to be an African founder, and we are so excited to have been in this space for the past 6 years. We are optimistic about the future that African founders are building, and hope you are too!