Startup Accelerator

Derek Notman |

A Comprehensive List of Midwest Startup Accelerators and 5 Tips for Getting Into One

As an entrepreneur and business owner, I understand that entrepreneurs, especially in the early stages of their business, need access to professional help and money.  I wanted to help them find what they need faster.  The more I searched for these resources the more I noticed that a list like this didn’t exist.  So I dove in and made my own!

I specialize in working with entrepreneurs who are in the early stages of their startup because no one else does.  Building trust and sharing risk with you allows us to grow together, so when you are successful, I am successful.  Providing valuable information, like this list, is simply doing something good and hopefully useful for others.

I hope you get a ton of value with these tips and list (E-Book) of startup accelerators.  Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please don't forget to share your successes, they are an inspiration we can all learn from!



Do you need a startup accelerator?

Do you have a new business idea?  Have you already started on your new business?  Then you probably are in need of professional help and money.  Startup accelerators are here to serve both of these needs.

Enter the startup accelerator.

Don’t know what a startup accelerator is, where they are located, and how to get into them?  No worries, you are in the same boat as many other entrepreneurs embarking on their newest venture. 

Startup Accelerators have only really been around for about 12 years, with the first startup accelerator being Y Combinator that started in Cambridge, Massachusetts and later moved to Silicon Valley.  As the entrepreneur movement keeps scaling, more and more startup accelerators have been sparking into existence, with their growth being exponential, mirroring the startups they invest in.  Although most of the original and best known accelerators are based on the coasts, more and more of them are popping up in the Midwest (Silicon Prairie), leading to more access and opportunity for businesses to grow.

What is a Startup Accelerator?

Sometimes referred to as seed accelerators and incubators, startup accelerators are unique and tend to have the following characteristics:

  • Cohort Based: A group of startups going through the accelerator at the same time, focusing on the teams not on individual founders.
  • Fixed Term:  A defined start and finish to their program, typically ranging from 3-9 months, ending with a final, public pitch event to highlight the startup companies completing the program where they can get real investors on the spot.
  • Educational:  Structured learning.
  • Mentoring:  Most accelerators have access to already successful entrepreneurs who want to give back by mentoring startup companies.
  • Offers connections to other business ventures, strategic partners, and co-working spaces
  • Seed Money for equity.  It is typical for an accelerator to take an equity position in the startup company in exchange for the startup being accepted to and completing their program, usually accompanied with a modest financial seed investment into the company as well.  Some also offer convertible notes as their initial investment.
  • Can be privately or publicly funded and the accelerator is able to invest in a wide range of companies.
  • Application process:  Open to mostly anyone, but highly competitive.
  • Prestige:  Having been accepted to and completed a well-respected accelerator can greatly enhance the value of a startup company to future investors and potential business opportunities.
  • The typical accelerator process includes 5 phases: awareness, application, program, demo day, post demo day.  This allows for growth and support both during and after a startup completes an accelerator program.

Each accelerator has its own nuances and is unique in how they do things, yet most of them share a number of similarities in how they conduct their programs.  Any accelerator you are considering should be strongly vetted by you, your co-founders, and any mentors you are currently working with.

Why should you start and scale your startup in the Midwest?

I live in the Midwest; Madison, WI.  It is a great place to live, work, and play!  But why should you start your business in the Midwest?  Well, there are many reasons, like:

  • Lower cost of living
  • Higher quality of life
  • Plenty of access to money for your business
  • Strong support networks of mentors and strategic partners
  • Plenty of official programs to help startups begin and scale (both private and public)
  • And let’s not forget the good old “Midwest Nice” attitude of the people who live here!

There is more access to resources and money in the Midwest than it is given credit for.  As Steve Case of Rise of the Rest believes and has started to prove, there is plenty of opportunity for a variety of businesses to not only start, but thrive in the Midwest.  We just need to share more success stories about companies in the Silicon Prairie that are giving the coasts a run for their money, literally!  So it is up to us to get the word out!

So who are the startup accelerators in the Midwest (Silicon Prairie) and where are they located?

The following list is certainly not all inclusive because of the ever changing accelerator landscape.  I have focused on cities in the Midwest (Silicon Prairie), with some overlap to the cities that Steve Case has visited or is going to visit as part of his Rise of the Rest tour. 

For the purposes of this article I am limiting my definition of accelerators to those that have a formal program, application process, and provide some type of funding.  However, some states simply don’t have established accelerators yet.  If you don’t see an accelerator on the list that you think should be, please leave me a note and I will gladly consider adding it.

But first, how do you get into a startup accelerator?

5 Tips for getting into a startup accelerator

There are many variables to consider when you are trying to get into a startup accelerator.  Ask 10 different entrepreneurs and you will get 111 answers!  Getting into a startup accelerator is extremely competitive, the following 5 tips could be what sets you apart for getting into the perfect program!

  1. Explore

Research the accelerator programs in your geographic region and what they specialize in.  Finding an accelerator that is close to where you live and that is already geared towards your type of business are two major parts of the puzzle when you are applying to get into their program.

  1. Network

Once you narrow down the accelerator (s) you would like to apply to, make sure you know who the key players are that are involved with those particular programs, and reach out to them to introduce yourself and see if they will offer up any advice.  Also reach out to prior graduates of the programs to learn inside tips from them and maybe even get a personal introduction to one of the principals of the accelerator.

  1. Prepare

Make sure you know your business (service, product, etc.) inside and out.  Having an MVP (minimum viable product) and knowledge of your addressable market is huge.  Be able to show scalability, and more importantly how your business can solve a problem while also being a strong investment opportunity.

  1. Apply and Pitch

If you pass muster with the initial application, then it is time to make certain your pitch is rock solid.  Show the accelerator the problem you and your startup are going to solve, how you are different, and how investors can get a return on their money if they invest in you and your company.  Being able to tell this in a concise manner is key to grabbing and keeping the attention of the decision makers.  It is also good practice for when you look for venture capital in the future.

  1. Be All In

Once accepted into an accelerator you can celebrate, for about 5 minutes, because then the real work begins!  Okay, maybe go out and celebrate with your co-founders for the night, but get your game face on since most accelerator programs are intense, focused, and constantly moving.  The accelerator is investing in YOU more than anything, so show them you are serious, be coachable, and learn as much as you can.  As the saying goes, put good in, get good out.


The Startup Accelerator Guide

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This is for informational purposes only. The ideas, opinions and concepts expressed here should not be construed as specific business advice. You should consult your professional business advisors regarding your particular situation. The businesses listed in this article are not meant as an endorsement.