It seems like everywhere you look these days there’s another agtech accelerator or innovation program launching or calling for applications. In Australia especially, there’s an abundance of agrifood programs, with at least 5 open calls for applications right now.
All this activity raises a few questions, like:
We get these questions often at AgThentic, and have even written whole reports and built tools to map out and help build the agrifood tech ecosystem, so I’ll try and provide some quick tips to hopefully help you navigate this exciting, growing space.
You’d think this would be an easy question to answer, but unfortunately it’s not.
Accelerators were originally made popular by programs such as Y Combinator, which launched in the US in 2005. The goal of most accelerators is to, well, accelerate growth. This means rapid customer discovery and sales growth over a short- usually three month- period, culminating in a Demo Day where startups pitch to a crowd of investors for funding.
Though the model has evolved and been adapted to different industries, program lengths, and business models, and there’s no one “right” model, this basic definition sums it up:
A set duration program where a cohort (i.e. group) of early-stage startups get access to a business development curriculum, mentors, and an investor network.
This is slightly different than an incubator, where physical space is usually on offer and there’s less of a focus on a program and cohort, or a pitch competition, where the focus is on one event with a crowd of customers and/or investors.
→ Pro Tip #1: Follow the money
Given the range of accelerator models out there, it’s important to do your homework on the program’s business model. Often accelerators make money through sponsorships and partnerships, and the goals of the funding parties drive the program design and metrics. For example, governments might want to stimulate job growth, investors might want higher quality deal flow, and corporates might want an early look at emerging startups that they can invest in or acquire. There’s no right or wrong answer, but for startups considering new programs, it’s worth knowing what keeps the lights on.
In general my answer is yes. There are two main reasons- momentum and competition and one caveat.
The caveat first: bad actors and bad programs are not good, so I would never advocate for volume over quality. And I’d especially caution against programs that are built more for the sponsors (e.g., to raise their brand as an “innovator”) than for the participating businesses.
That said, having more accelerator programs raises awareness of the power of entrepreneurship and the potential for agrifood tech startups. This means that users and customers are more engaged, investors learn more about the industry, and ultimately more startups are “born.” Sure, not all will succeed. But having accelerator programs attracts founders from different geographies and backgrounds, bringing in new perspectives and creating more opportunities to solve big industry problems.
Having more accelerator programs also creates competition, which raises the bar. As founders have more options to get support, program quality, terms, value proposition, and track record become more important. This benefits founders, investors, and end users.
→ Pro Tip #2: Have a go!
If you’re someone with an idea who has considered taking the next step toward a business but never made the jump, apply! Even going through the process of filling out the application form can help you think through your idea, and give exposure to the tools and best practices (and yes, jargon) that successful startups use. And if you’re an investor, farmer, or corporate who wants to learn more about what the future looks like, come along to an event or volunteer as a mentor.
With all these programs, how does an aspiring entrepreneur figure out which to choose? My advice is to start with the “why”. Why are you applying to a program, and what do you hope to get out of it?
Accelerator programs can be great for driving accountability, providing tools, resources, and best practices, and creating a community of both formal and informal supporters. They can help you get started, attract funding, and even find other team members. Professional athletes have coaches, and accelerators can be like a coaching program for entrepreneurs.
But accelerators are not a substitute for doing the real, hard work of building a business, so be sure you know what you hope to achieve, and evaluate each possible program against how well it can support you to achieve your goals.
→ Pro Tip #3: Go beyond the marketing
Most accelerator programs claim similar benefits, such as access to mentors, funding, and other professional services. To really determine what’s on offer (and at what price), I suggest going beyond the marketing materials by setting up a call with both the program staff and previous participants. For more on what to ask about, here’s our research on the good, bad, and ugly and some tips for finding the best support.
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Excited about an agrifood tech accelerator? Here are some of the programs that are accepting applications in Australia right now.
If I’ve missed any, or if you have tips to share, please add them in a comment!