Leadership

How to Kick Off a Successful Startup Program

Many don’t understand what a startup program does, or how to execute it successfully. Here are three ways to create a successful startup program.


4 min read

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Every business wants to add startups to its customer base, but often finds sales motions difficult with this valuable customer segment. Founders are building unique products, typically pre-money and pre-customer, and need special help that a dedicated startup program can provide. A successful startup program helps startup founders get the help and connections they need to accelerate growth and build a sustainable business.

However, in my experience, I have come across many companies that want to start this process, but don’t know what a startup program does, or how to execute one in a meaningful way. Here are three ways you can create a startup program that will succeed.

Related: 12 Reasons You Should Join an Accelerator to Advance Your Startup

Step one: Create a program with the right people 

It’s important to have a dedicated team that understands what founders require prior to launching a new program. You need a team that has experience in the startup ecosystem and has empathy for startup founders that are in the weeds, building new products. Simply put, early-stage startups operate in a way that mature customers and prospects do not and, therefore, have special needs that other customers don’t. You need a team that can immediately relate to the startup customer, and the best candidates have direct experience working for early-stage startups or pre-seed or seed stage VC funds or accelerators.

Another important factor is internal buy-in, both vertically and horizontally. To succeed, you will need your leadership team to see the value of long-term investment in the startup ecosystem. Startups growing in your program need to build their product, launch and scale before significant revenue is seen. They need time to grow. Similarly, you’ll need support across the rest of the business to elevate the customer journey and give startups the greatest odds for success. Make sure sales, support and customer service are ready to support these rapidly growing startup customers.

Related: Accelerator vs. Incubator: Which Is Right for You?

Step two: Identify the right partners

The most successful startup programs do everything they can to support the startup, and your best partners will share that same philosophy. Collaborate with those philosophically aligned partners, such as VCs or accelerators, to grow your network. When evaluating partners, also consider how they are organized. For example, some VC firms don’t have community managers, which makes it hard to bring them onboard to support a startup program. If there isn’t a dedicated member of their staff to support the community, it’s likely they may be tough to work with.

Identifying the right partners is the number one priority because this is how you’re going to meet new founders. To do this, you may want to look towards the numerous, amazing global organizations that can connect you to other partners. Many of these organizations are seeking sponsorships and can serve as another member of your team to extend your reach into the ecosystem without a lot of effort on your team’s part. In every partner encounter, think about how your program can help the most, either through educational content or deal flow.

Related: Are Accelerator Programs Right for Your Business?

Step three: Less facetime, and more practical support 

Building relationships with founders is valuable and important, and the best way to do that is face to face. However, founders need time to build their business. Don’t get me wrong: You should look to networking events to meet new people, but always be mindful of the most scarce resource a startup has … time. Make the initial connection, and then look for the right inflection point when you can provide the most help.

Often, startups need help extending their runway, so free stuff — whether it’s meals or product credits — is table stakes. So what else can you give to differentiate yourself from every other startup program out there? Look around and see what else might be helpful. Do you have a great marketing team or a large following? You can help amplify their messaging and celebrate their wins with them socially. Have a great mentor network? Offer mentor hours to help grease the wheels when they get stuck. And, if luck is on your side, you’ll start attracting investors to your stable of fast-growing startups because of the value you’re adding, and they’ll appreciate the deal flow.

At the end of the day, a successful startup program is grounded in people and empathy. Carefully build your team and network to maximize value to founders — and the rest will fall into place.

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