What Makes A Great SparkLabKC Applicant? 7 Tips for Nailing It

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So you think you want to apply for SparkLabKC's 2015 Accelerator Program? Then it's time to get going!

Applications are due by midnight on Monday, December 1st, 2014.

You can find a link to the application on our website. It is a comprehensive application (not unlike what you filled out for your college admissions), and we can tell when companies fill it out at the last minute. So don't delay!

We've seen a lot of applications come through SparkLabKC. Some have been great and some have been ridiculously awful. Great ideas with bad applications typically don't make it into highly competitive startup accelerator programs. So before you start filling in all those boxes and telling us about your amazing idea, please consider the following tips to help you show us your strongest side. Give your incredible idea its due and spend some quality time on the application.

Application Tips:

1. Show us how your idea solves a REAL PROBLEM in the market (not just your problem).

It's great to have an idea that solves YOUR problem, but if you can't translate it to a bigger audience or get anyone else to validate the same problem, then you are going to have a hard time building a company that can make money and scale. Validate the idea in the market. Find someone (anyone!) who will pay you for your idea, give you an email address to have early access, or at least provide feedback that is valuable.

2. Highlight your TEAM.

Startups are a team sport, and going through an accelerator program without a team is recipe for disaster. There is just too much to do in the 12-week timeframe of an accelerator to go it alone or even with some contractors. The commitment of the team is key and that needs to come through in your application. The team video is a great place to do that. We want to see everyone, not just a spokesperson!

3. Demonstrate your COACHABILITY.

One of the fastest ways to waste an accelerator experience (our time and yours) is to think you have it all figured out and don't need to listen to the advice of others. If you aren't willing to listen and act upon that advice, then please don't apply to an accelerator program. Demonstrating how you listen and respond to feedback is key to a great application and interview.

4. Present your prototype or MVP (minimum viable product).

As much as we like big ideas illustrated on the back of a napkin, we recommend having a prototype or MVP in place to get the most from our program. There just isn't time during the "90-day sprint" to build something from scratch, test it in the market, build your customer base, figure out your business model, and pitch to investors. Remember, the accelerator concept is a mentor-heavy experience. If you are heads down building something, you will miss the whole point. Check out my previous post on the MVP if this idea is new to you.

5. Demonstrate some TRACTION and/or market validation -- money, users, tests, feedback.

Of course, revenue is the best indicator of traction and market validation. However, most companies apply to an accelerator program before the revenue stage has been reached. It helps us see your profit potential if you have conducted tests and surveys, as early validation of the concept is key. At least show that you have talked to some potential customers. Their feedback is critical.

6. Make a clear, concise, and compelling PITCH.

Personally, we think the lean canvas (aka business plan canvas) is the best tool out there for guiding your pitch. If you can't fill out the boxes of the canvas (which are small), then you likely can't give a 30-second elevator pitch for your product or service. Choosing your words wisely will help you explain your company and what you do. Check out my previous blogs on the lean canvas and the elevator pitch to learn more.

7. Be TRANSPARENT.

Honesty is always the best policy, and if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Be upfront about your startup's weaknesses (or opportunities for growth) and how you plan to address those areas while you are in the accelerator program. Transparency is paramount.

We don't expect you to know everything or to have everything figured out... you are a startup! However, overplaying your strengths and underplaying your weaknesses is one the fastest ways to build a failing startup company. During our 12-week program, we are going to get to know you and your team really well. Trust starts with your application and how consistent you are in all your online profiles.

Bottom Line

Quality matters, but so does following directions. It says a lot about you and your team if you spend time on your application and give us what we ask for in the 26 questions provided. Remember, this application is your first impression for SparkLabKC, and you rarely get a do-over on a first impression. We don't want you to spend lots of money on high end video production, but we do want you to plan what you are going to say and say it well.

Put your best foot forward and you will wow us with your potential. Good luck! We're looking forward to your application.