Just like building a startup itself, the team is everything when it comes to running a successful startup accelerator. There’s a lot of moving pieces to these programs so you’re going to need a few extra hands to manage them. Unfortunately, there is not a super deep talent pool when it comes to people with accelerator management experience. It’s still a somewhat new industry and only lately have we seen exponential growth in the number of programs taking place around the world. So that means you might have to get started with some junior or less experienced team members. Sounds not too dissimilar from a startup, doesn’t it? While this book is primarily geared towards accelerator managers, feel free to share it with any member of your staff.
As you build your team there are a few core roles that every program should have in order to support the needs of all the moving parts of a successful program. Oh and not to mention to avoid burning out in the process. Let’s take a look at each of them:
Managing Director/Investment Partner
At the highest level, the CEO or Managing Partner is typically the most experienced team member. They have both prior investment and operational experience and are able to handle any challenge that comes up. Former venture capitalists and even former founders can make great candidates for this role. If they can lead sessions that’s also great, although from my experience they are more often behind the scenes, ensuring the program has the capital and other resources needed to function properly.
They are the most comfortable in front of a group or on stage. They are a generalist who can speak on a wide variety of topics such as marketing, sales, fundraising, and pitch prep. They are ‘the professor’ on staff leading the bulk of the educational content. In most cases, they are a former founder and have often gone through accelerator programs themselves. If you have run several batches already, it’s helpful to look at your alumni and see if anyone stands out as a potential candidate for this role.
The program manager is the glue of any good program. They manage the program and also manage the daily calendar before, during, and after the program. This puts them in charge of communicating activities, in addition to making all activities run smoothly. In many cases, they will also be the ones responsible for managing the mentor network, guest lecturers, and myriad other things. Regardless of their gender, they are often considered to be the ‘mother’ of the program. They have all the answers as the role relates to program logistics. They also typically manage the operations folk and interns as well.
With attention to detail and the ability to manage both people and spaces, the operations manager ensures everything runs smoothly. This includes the operations of the accelerator program office space and also event management. They may also be in charge of coordination between mentors, partners, and speakers. They work hand in hand with the Program Manager/Director on just about everything program-related. They are the right-hand man/woman to that role and support them very closely.
With each accelerator program, there is much to manage with regard to investment documents and legal paper wrangling, so it’s best to have a junior to mid-level associate solely focused on this. Their primary responsibility is to complete the investments in every company and manage the longer-term legal requests that come up. They can also support the due diligence process of screening the companies in a program. Completing startup investments is a complicated and grueling process, especially when dealing with large batch sizes of 10 or more companies. This role helps to drive that process so the other team members can focus on program execution.
Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR)
These former founders can be thought of like super mentors. The best profile is a founder who has recently sold or left their startup. They are in between startups or recently had a successful exit. So at the moment, they are discovering what they’ll be working on next. A great outlet for them is often an accelerator as it allows them to work with many ideas and business models at a time. In other words, they need inspiration and you (hopefully) have gathered several inspiring ideas into a single venue for them. As a bonus, you get really experienced founders working closely with your batch. When possible it’s helpful to have several EIRs involved in each program. This is often a part-time role and may or may not be compensated.
Similar to the benefits an EIR might receive working in your program same goes for people at the beginning of their startup journey. Although they may have more energy than experience, startup newbies can still be very helpful in the form of program interns. They can help with odds and ends and even directly support your batch companies. You can usually find the best intern candidates from the entrepreneurial programs at your local college. If you pitch it to them as an opportunity to turbocharge their startup experience, and maybe even to get a job with one of the companies, you’ll have no shortage of signups. It’s also recommended to compensate them for their time. From my experience, I’ve found that interns who are not compensated are less engaged and in many cases disappear altogether. If you value their time and allow them to continue you may also find that today’s intern can become tomorrow’s program manager if given the chance.