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This article was published on September 16, 2012

What it’s like to start your own startup accelerator

What it’s like to start your own startup accelerator
Kim Heras
Story by

Kim Heras

Kim Heras is a Sydney-based technology writer and entrepreneur. His passions include the Australian startup industry, innovation and the Kim Heras is a Sydney-based technology writer and entrepreneur. His passions include the Australian startup industry, innovation and the web as an enabler of change. You can follow Kim on twitter - @kimheras

Startup accelerators are popping up around the world at a rapid pace.

Jed Christansen’s Seed-DB site links to over 120 but there are many more not listed there that service a wide range of geographies and industries.

While opinions vary as to whether or not there are too many, or too few (funny how nobody’s arguing there is just the right amount) little is spoken about the process behind the formation of the vast majority.

What is an accelerator?

At their heart, seed accelerators are defined length programs (usually 3 months) where early stage startups are provided seed capital, mentorship, co-working space (though not always) and other services in the hope of removing the barriers to startup success… or failure.

I am the co-founder of Sydney, Australia-based PushStart, an accelerator that follows this model.

One of the most common questions I’m asked about PushStart is why I started the program. I realize that what many people mean when they ask this is why did I, and the many other accelerator program founders around the world, start our programs when there are so many others already out there?

I can’t speak for everyone, but I think you’ll find many accelerator founders share the same story – that story is also mine, so I’d like to pull back the curtain a little.

My story

I first started organizing startup community events in Sydney in the lull between the dot com and the web 2.0 booms. As a startup founder myself, I desperately wanted to connect with other founders who were sharing the same experience and the only way to do this was by kicking off events by myself.

For those outside of the Bay Area, it may be hard to fathom an environment where the only other people you know working on startups you’ve met online, and are in another country, but that was very much the case for startup founders in many places around the world in 2005, and Sydney was no different.

My first step in organizing a community event was running a Sydney Open Coffee – that global tech startup meetup phenomenon kicked off by Saul Klein, a well known London-based VC.

We rapidly built a group of like-minded founders that was growing in numbers every week. To get the word out about what they were all doing I started tech blogging, first through my own blog and then as the Australian editor of The Next Web.

As time passed, my own startup was doing well and I had a great job at, an amazing family history startup out of Israel, but I was getting so much pleasure out of seeing new founders come on to the scene, connect with more experienced people, then take those learnings and grow, that I decided that’s what I wanted to dedicate myself to.

At that time YC had been around for a couple of years, but it was the TechStars model I thought would work best for Sydney.

In a nutshell – the mentor focused program they ran was a perfect fit as it would put structure (and a bit of capital) around what we were already doing.

Also, the fact it had come out of Colorado was proof that it could work outside of the Valley. This was in stark contrast to Paul Graham who had just shut down the Boston YC program because he believed startups in the Bay Area had the best chance of success.

Maybe it’s time to address that idea before we move on. As a startup founder, being in the San Francisco Bay Area is an amazing experience and gives you the best possible environment in which to learn, grow and succeed.

But not everyone can move to Silicon Valley – nor do they want to. So while it’s a harder road, it’s not an impossible one. And there are many benefits to kicking off your startup outside of the valley including better/easier access to talent, a dearth of funding opportunities that leads to more robust businesses being built and a more global focus.

So, while Paul Graham was right in saying that all things being equal, Silicon Valley is the best place to start and run a startup, he was also right when he said it’s not the only place to do it.

So back to TechStars. After identifying their program as the best fit for Sydney we approached the TechStars teams in the hope of having a program set up locally. That didn’t end up happening but the one take away from the process was an amazing meeting with Tom Keller, their Managing Director of International at the time. Tom said that even if we couldn’t work out an agreement he would support us in our efforts to run an independent program and to feel free to reach out to him for help and connections.

It was at that stage that I realised there were many likeminded people around the world who shared my interest and passion for helping startups no matter where they were and they would help others with the same passion regardless of whether or not there was a direct benefit to them.

After that I was fortunate to meet many more like-minded people. I was introduced to John Stokes (of Real Ventures and Montreal Startup) and Jon Bradford (now at SpringBoard – the UK’s top accelerator). Both were unbelievably supportive of what were trying to do, even though they’d see no real benefit in their home countries. I still keep in contact with Jon Bradford regularly and he has been an exceptional mentor to us as we’ve kicked off our program.

I also met Dave Tisch who was in the middle of preparations for demo day for the first Techstars NY program at the time. Not only did he give me his time, but also some great advice.

There were many more program managers around the world who helped us out, including the founder of StartMate, another program run out of Sydney.

That may come as a surprise to many people in Sydney as there’s a perception of competition. But the reality is we’re both working towards the same goal – the promotion of tech entrepreneurship as a valid career choice in Australia, as a way to improve our local economy and, most importantly, as a way to improve the lives of people around the world.

So where are we now?

We’ve run our first accelerator (check out our teams on our Angel List page).

Our teams are now in the US as part of a SF/NY US Pitch and Demo Day tour.

We’re taking our learnings and iterating for our next classes and want to get even better at helping talented, passionate startup founders in Australia create globally significant businesses.

As an example of the closing of the loop, I’ve now shared my experiences with people looking to start other accelerators in Sydney, in other Australian cities and even in other countries around the world.

But won’t this just add to the flood of accelerators?

Yes it will. And that will hopefully lead to a flood of startups from all over the globe creating amazing products and services that make the world a better place.

Not such a bad thing, right?

Image Source: Kai C. Schwarzer

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