Pitching to startup company incubators and getting accepted into their programs is a challenging road. The application process is not only highly competitive, but the selection protocols are equally tough. Organizers have rigorous screening criteria, which is why the success rate is between just 1% to 3%.
Entrepreneurs with groundbreaking, innovative business ideas must work extra hard to get that toe in the door. Getting incubator support can significantly improve their chances of the business becoming successful. Considering that 90% of new startups fall through, that support could make the ultimate difference between a profitable exit and failure.
What can you do to raise your chances of getting in? Read ahead for some detailed info that will prove helpful when designing a compelling pitch and presenting it.
The Ultimate Guide To Pitch Decks
Research Into the Appropriate Incubator Program
Maximize your chances of getting incubator support for the venture by applying for the appropriate program. The United States is known for having a vibrant startup ecosystem with numerous incubator programs countrywide.
The National Business Incubator Association estimates that there are around 7,000 incubators, of which 1,400 are based in the USA. But not all programs are built alike. Organizers have stringent rules about accepting applications because they’re looking for viable concepts to invest resources in. They need assurance that they’ll make money off the venture.
Incubators typically have a portfolio page on their website where they list the successful brands and ventures they have supported. Check this page for more information about the type of startups and ideas the program has worked with. That will give you an overview of successful applicants.
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Before filling out the form, here’s what you should do:
- Take the time to research the incubator and what it offers startup founders. Aside from funding, you’ll look for the mentorship they offer, the location where their workshops are located, and administrative support. Laboratories, technical staff, free or subsidized tools and equipment, and various other perks are part of their packages.
- Check for the education, training, and curriculum they offer.
- Learn more about the incubator organizers. Read up on their success stories and any other background information that can indicate whether they are likely to accept your application.
- Talk to entrepreneurs who have successfully passed through the program to help you develop an understanding of their processes. You could get valuable tips on designing and pitching to startup company incubators.
- Ask about networking opportunities to help you connect with potential investors who might fund the startup with further funding rounds.
- Inquire about demo day and the training provided for developing and presenting the pitch.
Applying to Multiple Programs Raises Your Chances of Success
Entrepreneurs should take advantage of the availability of a selection of incubators and accelerators. Reaching out to angel investors and venture capitalists is also an option.
Applying to multiple programs raises the probability of getting accepted while honing your skills at creating pitches. You’ll also get a selection of term sheets and investments so you can choose the most appropriate option.
Keep in mind that incubators have terms and conditions for extending their support. For instance, for-profit organizations may require equity in the startup, but non-profits like universities and government agencies have fee-based compensation. However, there is no fixed schedule for the launch.
Their objective here is to foster a startup-friendly ecosystem and co-working space where talented entrepreneurs can exchange ideas. They nurture the development of innovative, industry-disruptive concepts and offer collaboration and shared costs.
Getting Listed on the Incubator’s Portfolio Has Its Own Advantages
Making it to the incubator’s portfolio is highly beneficial because many investors often check their pages for viable investment opportunities worth backing. Getting accepted into the program lends validation that your business concept has what it takes to be successful.
You could get on the radar of venture capitalists and larger multinationals looking for companies they can acquire.
Startup founders typically start working with an accelerator or incubator for initial support and later progress to accelerators. These entities are typically industry-specific, such as cryptocurrency, health care, digital products, or travel.
Keep in mind that in fundraising, storytelling is everything. In this regard, for a winning pitch deck to help you here, take a look at the template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.
Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
Prepping for Pitching to Startup Company Incubators – How That Works
Before filling out that application form, you’ll want to develop your business idea and have a well-structured plan in place. Incubators are more likely to support entrepreneurs that are ready with their basics.
Presenting a highly-talented team, a ready customer base, a working product prototype, and a corporate framework indicate a stable, well-organized business worth backing. If you can get these elements together, that’s like the perfect pitch.
Also, prepare the team for the interview round and make sure they come across as a functional, well-coordinated system. As a rule, incubators are open to assisting entrepreneurs with building on a rough but feasible business idea. If the concept is sound, transforming it into a successful company is easily done. But, an out-of-sync team that cannot work well is just not worth the investment.
Before submitting the application, look for contacts and connections that can introduce you to the incubator leaders. Without this edge, your proposal could end up as just one of the hundreds they receive regularly.
Check LinkedIn and other networking sites to find someone who can introduce you and ensure you get to say your piece. The interviewee may appreciate your initiative in wanting to stand out from the crowd. Also, remember to update your own profile on the platform with the latest information about your achievements.
Create Your Application Pitch
Filling out the application form is an excellent way for entrepreneurs to get an overview of their business assets and understand where they stand. Craft the mission statement and vision, and also put together an executive summary. Once you create the materials for pitching to startup company incubators, you can quickly fill multiple applications for funding sources.
Be mindful that incubator managers are likely to check out your profile on top startup platforms like AngelList, Gust, F6S, and Crunchbase. They’ll also review and assess your website, which is the initial digital storefront for any company. So, make sure the landing page is well-designed and impresses.
Since an application form is the first impression, take your time to be thorough with your responses.
Considering that less than 10% of applications make the final selection list, build an initial connection with the interviewer with concise but polished responses.
Respect the Administrator’s Time
Structure your answers well and deliver the appropriate length. Read each question and take your time to understand what it says before formulating the answer. Adding lots of white space helps.
Pay careful attention to proofreading since attention to detail says a lot about the business potential of the applicant. It also indicates their dedication to getting into the program. The key is simplicity and a direct approach. Your ideas need to make sense to the reader.
Practice due diligence with spelling and grammar checks. A badly-written application form is likely to end up in the reject pile instantly. Reviewers may not take the time to read through it entirely. If necessary, get a third person to check through the application to ensure it is legible and coherent.
Most importantly, include only relevant information. You can provide more details during the interview. Don’t forget your contact details or why you’re starting this business.
Questions to Expect in the Incubator Application Form
When pitching to startup company incubators, expect to fill out their onsite application form. While the overall format may be unique to every organization, the form will have entrepreneurs answer certain questions. Here’s some of the information to prepare.
- Full name
- Job title and position
- The startup’s proposed name, brand, and tagline
- Location and complete address
- Email address
- Phone number
- Startup’s founding date
- The stage at which the company stands, such as Pre-seed, Seed, Growth, and Later Stage
- Company’s registration number
- Number of employees
- Targeted customers, such as B2B, B2C, or P2P
- What is your business plan?
- What is the problem you’re solving?
- Who are your competitors? How is your product a more viable option for customers?
- What is the startup’s USP?
- Who is the target market? What is the customer demographic and location?
- What is the size of your market?
- Have you acquired a tax clearance certificate for the startup?
- What are the relevant skills you and your core team have? What would you say are your areas of expertise?
- Do you have a ready product prototype? Is it fully functional?
- If not functional, at what development stage is the product?
- What are the main challenges facing the startup?
- What are the startup’s requirements for reaching its next stage?
- What are the areas where our program can support the startup?
- What is the technology you’re using?
- Do you own any Intellectual Property, trademarks, innovations, copyrights, or patents?
- Have you acquired funding in the past?
- Who are your existing investors?
- Do you have any funding in the pipeline?
Incubator programs are only one fundraising option. When you’re ready to explore other types of investors for your startup, check out this video I have created. I have outlined in detailed all the other avenues you can explore.
Questions to Ask Yourself
The questions above are some of the typical queries the incubator application will ask. When putting down your answers, focus on factors like:
- How would I describe my business idea in a single sentence with just 140 characters?
- If I had to explain the idea to someone, not from my industry, what would I say?
- What is a great slogan that sums up my concept?
- Does the form have visual appeal?
- Do my answers make sense to a total stranger?
Better yet, think of how you would explain the business to a child or grandmother. If you can get through to them, you’re good to go. But if the text is too complicated, you probably won’t get called in for an interview.
Prep for an In-Person or Virtual Interview
Incubator programs may allow applicants to submit a video clip where they can talk about their ideas. If the application is approved, the next step is an in-person or virtual interview. This is where you’ll present a pitch deck in the appropriate number of slides. Remember to rehearse it and be clear about the main points of interest.
Entrepreneurs can talk about the technical aspects of their products, business model, future growth projections, and financials. Also, add details about the top talent working in the company, their qualifications, and previous successes.
The ideal pitch deck has 12 to 14 slides and can be delivered within 5 minutes or so. Also, reserve time for the interviewer to ask questions about the company. The information is undoubtedly, interesting, but more than that, the manager will focus on the startup founder–you.
The objective here is to assess the applicant, their enthusiasm, and if they have what it takes to execute their ideas. Incubators also need to know if you have a clear plan of action and a proven track record of successful outcomes.
Having completed the application process, expect a delay of a few weeks before you hear back from them. Use this time productively to improve your business operations and product prototype. Work on building the business while continuing to apply to other programs.
Follow-Up With a Quick Call or Email
After the interview, give it a week, and if you don’t get a response, follow up with an email. Keep it short and polite, and ask for updates. Chances are that the organizers are still running interviews or got too busy with applications to respond. They may appreciate your enthusiasm and provide positive responses.
Meanwhile, reach out to the program’s team members through LinkedIn and follow them. You could also connect with them and start a conversation. Inquire about the ongoing conferences, meetups, and networking events. Make it a point to attend them for some personal one-on-one interaction.
Dealing With the Possibility of Rejection
When pitching to startup company incubators, getting approved the first time can be challenging. Even if entrepreneurs face rejection, they can continue applying to other programs while maintaining a connection with the program managers. Keep them informed about the milestones your company is achieving and any new opportunities that could interest them.
The program may not pan out for you, but the experience will help when applying to other incubators. Continue working on it until you find an incubator, accelerator, or investor that supports your business idea.
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