A Quality Benchmark for Accelerators: The Global Accelerator Network

Global Accelerator NetworkWhen David Cohen and I came up with the idea for the Global Accelerator Network (GAN) in 2010, we counted roughly 100 accelerator programs around the US that were founded following the Techstars model. We labeled Techstars a “mentor driven accelerator” and reached out to others who were using the same approach to create what became GAN. From that initial outreach, 16 high quality accelerator programs joined us to launch the network.

Since then, accelerators have appeared all over the world. Some accelerators are incredibly high quality. Others are not. Some are major contributors to their startup communities. Others are detrimental to it. As with everything new that grows quickly, it’s a chaotic system with lots of innovation, creative destruction, and rapid change and learning that – if done well – is a great example of the power of the Lean Startup approach to entrepreneurship.

Today, the Global Accelerator Network is a worldwide organization of 52 accelerators located in over 60 cities around the world. We’ve maintained a high quality across the membership while expanding the network by being selective. Not every accelerator is/could be/would be a member in GAN, nor is it designed that way. To become a member, each accelerator must meet the following strict criteria:

  • Operate a 3-6 month long program.
  • Provide some sort of seed capital to their founders.
  • Take a small amount of equity (usually ~6%) and overall have terms that are favorable to entrepreneurs.
  • Take no less than 5 and no more than 12 companies at a time.
  • Surround those companies with 40-80 mentors.
  • Have funding for a two-year runway of the program.
  • Have physical space available for their program.
  • Have a strong management team who are typically proven entrepreneurs

In addition to these eight criteria, all members follow the established ethos (give before you get; put entrepreneurs first) of accelerators in  GAN, including a thorough review of an accelerator’s term sheets and numerous conversations to vet accelerator founders’ intentions and operational practices. We also review their leadership and mentor pool to ensure value.

Becoming a member in the GAN is not easy, but neither is operating a quality accelerator program. Feel free to drop me an email if you want to learn more about joining GAN.

  • So cool to see some of the locations of the GAN accelerators. How much fun would it be to start a business in Seoul or Reykjavik? Maybe there should be some sort of exchange program… 🙂

    • We are actually working on an exchange program for Startup Summer between Boulder and Reykjavik in 2014!

      • Serious!? That will be some lucky intern. Actually, I’d be interested to hear about any exchanges – is there a list somewhere? We’ve been looking for multilingual interns.

        • Seriously.

          • Patrick Riley

            The GAN also does a founder tour for startups who have completed an accelerator in the GAN. It’s a four city tour throughout the western part of the U.S. But if you ever want to visit a GAN accelerator overseas or want an intro to them, just ping me (pat at gan.co).

          • Ditto Pat! Send them our ways 🙂

  • Kristjanfreyr

    GAN has done amazing things for us in StartupReykjavik, thanks for initiating it!

    • Patrick Riley

      Love hearing this!

  • The GAN is an excellent idea and it’s great to see it spread its wings that way.

    But that was a checklist criteria. How do you judge the quality of the outcomes, i.e. the quality of the startups they are supposed to produce? I know TechStars maintains religiously that lifecycle spreadsheet.

    Do you have influence on the GAN members to track the post-graduation metrics in a homogeneous way?

    • Great questions William. Many members in the GAN do publicize their data and many more are taking the steps to do the same.

      One challenge for programs of publishing this data today- while it is easy to all agree exits/IPO are a benchmark for success of an accelerator program, the recognized timeline for that event is optimistically 5-7 years. As Techstars has now just crossed the 7 year mark (for it’s 2007 Boulder program) that metric has a few years of maturation prior to measurement for many our members.

      There are metrics we track today that we believe are the key indicators of successful companies (and programs) including: % of active companies, funds raised and jobs created. You can view this data for GAN programs in aggregate on our website: http://gan.co

      We believe in full transparency when and where constructive and possible- we know the metrics we’ve collected and released are just the beginning and will continue to look for channels which communicate accelerators’ quality in a quantitative way.

      • Thanks Sarah.
        I wasn’t thinking about exit as the only outcome criteria. I was implying data about the “evolution path” that the companies take, which it seems you have answered. I’ll check that data.

  • reggiedog

    The biggest problem that I am seeing in incubators/coworking spaces/accelerators in this area (eastern state, not to be identified) is that they actually aggregate a below-average group of people and create an ecosystem of mediocrity which is actually detrimental to startups.

    The two primary actors in this negative feedback loop are: 1) “wantrepreneurs” who don’t have the drive to actually do the hard work and thinking that a startup takes, but are usually nice enough to be afforded the benefit of the doubt; and 2) the “service providers” who easily re-brand themselves as “mentors” and convince others that they have experience and services startups need.

    The local Startup Ecosystem needs both entrepreneurs and (less so) mentors, but initiating the ecosystem usually has some dis-connected group (a State or local program, a real estate landlord, a hop-on-the-bandwagon-I’ll-start-an-incubator wantrepreneur) priming the pump by taking whomever walks in the door first. Then it becomes a process of the blind leading the blind, and any serious entrepreneur is sucked into the magical thinking vortex and has their startup dragged down quickly.

    I am sure you all see these symptoms: entrepreneurs who do nothing but sell their ideas instead of discussing them (and who never do any competitive analysis to see the 30 others in their space to try and learn from them), but who get taken seriously anyway, or the “mentor” who is the remora of the ecosystem, trying to get paid for pontificating from their prior experience working for a big company and dropping terms from the one book they read and who is not able to give the start up much effective advice at all because they don’t know these markets and have never had to figure out product-market-fit. “Mentors” and Wantrepreneurs need each other and work well together, such that they BECOME the ecosystem; Gresham’s Law in action.

    Then to justify their existence the co-working space hosts lots of below-average events that add to the problem and perpetuate it. Given the incredible sharing that true experts do in blogs, books and videos, it is a disadvantage to attend almost any of the “learn this to help your startup” seminars that these spaces host, as they are usually lead by the mentors who can’t help. Some of these events are truly cringe-worthy, giving a soapbox to people who wouldn’t have one anywhere else. And any entrepreneur who goes to these hasn’t done his homework to know where to get the best resources, which are all freely and easily available, to give himself the best chance of success, is really not fit for the Darwinian struggle we all know is startup life.

    In my experience in the non-tech hub geographies, MOST incubators/co-working spaces/accelerators are something entrepreneurs should avoid rather than participate in.

  • With the mushrooming growth of business incubators worldwide, it is definitely the call of the day to have some kind of an umbrella body that can unite, tie and bring the industry players together.

    From this perspective, GAN is a great initiative and a welcome step.

  • Jon

    Having criteria to vet the accelerator programs is critical to maintain a quality program. High quality accelerator programs can have a huge impact on the entrepreneurial ecosystem in a community.