Accelerators: Online vs Offline — Which one to choose?

Chances are that you are an entrepreneur trying to figure out how to scale your business in the aftermath of a global pandemic. And you have a lot of questions on your mind.

What kind of tools will you need to help you during this mass shutdown?

What kind of an accelerator will get your company off the ground? Which one would work better for you: an online or an offline accelerator? If you choose one, do you risk sacrificing the benefits of the other?

Is networking online as effective as offline? Is an investor meeting over Zoom just as good as over a cup of coffee?

Let's take a closer, step-by-step.

Yes, you still need accelerators.

For most startups, there comes a time when going through an accelerator seems like a crucial and logical step. Getting new clients, gaining exposure in new markets, or simply getting help in scaling from experts in your industry — whatever your pain is, accelerators offer a way to break through entrepreneurial plateaus and get on track towards rapid growth.

They also help you find a new way of thinking about an issue, outside of your regular train of thought and find new ways to compete in the ever-growing competitive landscape.

Greater Flexibility

With the advent of COVID-19, and as a result of many founders and investors being confined to their homes, online programs have grown and expanded like never before. It is no wonder that many teams have taken this route. The online format does indeed have unique advantages over traditional offline programs.

One of them is that you have access to a larger variety of resources. A virtual program becomes a one-stop-shop for everything you need. You have numerous educational resources at your fingertips, in addition to a vast network of mentors that can give you pertinent advice.

Another key advantage is time. An online accelerator gives you greater flexibility, so you can typically review program content at a pace that is comfortable for you unless strict deadlines are imposed.

Online programs are also not constrained by space. You can be based anywhere in the world and still participate in a rigorous accelerator. No visa hassle & no airfare costs.

And then, of course, there’s the price. Most online programs charge a lesser price than the offline ones, be it in equity or hard cash. This usually has nothing to do with the quality but is easily explained by the fact that they do not have to factor in expenses connected with a physical presence & accommodations.

I spent my first month in France trying to figure out the right way to incorporate, as well as dealing with legal issues instead of closing sales. Obviously I couldn’t fully benefit from my acceleration, being so distracted. Looking back I wish I had taken care of it before, when I was still at home. — Konstantin Rodchenko, Founder at Loyalme

Even though some tasks are difficult to do online, there is still a whole lot that can be done remotely, such as incorporation (provided that you find good legal counsel) and market & competitive research. In fact, doing these things just upon arrival into a new country can be a costly proposition and will only waste your time. Preparing in advance via an online program, can save valuable resources and enable founders to hit the ground running when they arrive in their new market.

Become a native

This isn’t to say that we are currently seeing the demise of offline accelerators.

Offline programs offer their own benefits and the most obvious one is networking. While we are seeing an unprecedented surge in next-generation communication tools, it does not seem like any of them can provide a comparable experience to talking with someone in person.

One-on-one personal interactions are a sure-fire way of establishing strong, long-term professional connections. A personal meeting, be it with a client, partner or investor will ensure more long term value than any number of virtual chats.

I rarely made an investment unless I got to meet the founder face to face at least once. An investment, especially as an angel or at early stages, is a long-term commitment and you really want to make sure the chemistry is ok, before diving in with your money. — Serge Milman, General partner at Starta Ventures

Offline programs encourage participants to attend local networking events and have face-to-face meetings, leveraging the local tech ecosystem in a manner that can only be done in person. Usually, in-person pitch contests, as well as demo day events, play a huge part in breaking into a new environment.

As part of a bigger cohort, you will get to interact with other founders and learn from their stories. In addition, the emotional support founders in the same cohort can provide to each other should not be underestimated. The stress can be overwhelming and being able to discuss your worries over dinner with somebody in the same boat as you helps tremendously.

Besides networking, offline programs offer a ****regimented approach which can allow for more progress to be made in a shorter span of time, while making sure that everyone stays on the same page. During sessions, the presence of every party involved in the same room guarantees that communication issues will be kept to a minimum.

Operating physically within a new market also gives you more motivation to accomplish things faster. Being placed in an alien environment, with constance pressure being directed your way, puts some pep in your step and helps you better understand what you should do within the allotted time that you have.

When it comes to product-market fit, It is important to understand (particularly if you are an early-stage company) that a deep dive into your new market is usually quite necessary. There are often many nuances to effective messaging for the local audience which require expert guidance and direct customer feedback in order to perfect.

As you see, offline programs are much more effective in “localizing” the founders and helping them understand all the specifics of their new market. This might not be as crucial, say for a B2B SaaS company (though it definitely helps), but is absolutely necessary for a D2C or B2C based business.

Overall, offline programs offer a time-tested approach that has worked consistently in the past and will continue to work in the future.

The benefits of both

We hope that this has given you a better perspective on what you can hope to gain from both programs, and how a perfect synthesis can help you make the most out of your accelerator experience.

So which is better? Well, the answer is that they are both necessary. Even in our tech-based world, a solely online program will not give you the most out of your accelerator experience. However, if paired with a solid offline component, an online program can be part of a broader hybrid solution that will help save time and money.

So the best option is to find a way to combine both.

This approach runs in tandem with a broader trend. Many companies and businesses have realized that they can no longer simply provide services in a physical capacity. There is a large customer base that finds it easier to access information and services via online platforms. As more businesses have become attuned to this, we have seen many services being siphoned off into the digital realm. Accelerators should act accordingly. It has long been championed that a great idea, organization, company, etc., can come from anywhere and can start from anything, but this can be easily stifled by such factors as money, geography, and time. A hybrid program can end this.

Starting this summer, Starta will be holding a hybrid program in which various components will be held in either virtual or physical capacities.

Our program will start virtually, allowing founders to prepare for their new market and learn how to scale their business without incurring relocation expenses. However, the second part of the program will be conducted in physical capacity in our NYC office, so that our participants will have a chance to benefit from immersing themselves in the US market, participating in live pitches and demo days, and networking in person. We believe this dual approach utilizes the best of both worlds in order to provide more flexibility while maximizing the program value.

We hope that this has given you a better perspective on what you can hope to gain from both programs, and how a perfect synthesis can help you make the most out of your accelerator experience.

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