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Why the Accelerator Model is Broken—and how 500 Startups is Fixing it

No one would’ve envisioned me as a venture capitalist. I was raised in rural Wyoming, far from the high stakes and deep pockets of Wall Street and Silicon Valley. But from a young age, going against the grain was in my DNA. It’s what led me to San Francisco, and, ultimately, what drew me to 500 Startups.

When I moved to San Francisco in 2012, I was working on my fourth startup and looking to join an accelerator. 500 immediately stood out to me, not only for their reputation as one of the top accelerators in Silicon Valley, but also because they seemed to be one of the few VCs at the time that recognized that true entrepreneurship was blind to geographic and economic disparities. They were investing in people from all walks of life and every corner of the globe.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t get accepted. The first few times we applied, we were told we were too early. But in 2015, our persistence paid off and we were accepted into Batch 12.

In hindsight, even then we were too early for the program. While the content and mentors were exceptional, it wasn’t immediately applicable to us, and we fell behind other companies in our batch. Things eventually came to an end with my startup, but my relationship with 500 became stronger than ever, and I joined the staff full-time at the end of 2016. 

As I watched the batches progress during my tenure, I began to notice a commonality with many of the companies; something relevant to what I’d experienced myself. In the business of startups, there was one thing more precious than funding: time.

Like other accelerators, 500 has always accepted startups into our batches two times per year. This means to thrive in the program, your company needs to be at precisely the right stage, at the exact time you join. And those crucial months in-between programs can be make-or-break for an early-stage startup.

In a business where timing is everything, I realized the current accelerator model was serving an injustice to founders. That’s why shortly after I was put in charge of our flagship accelerator, I knew it was time to do exactly what we tell our founders to do every day—to innovate. So, after shepherding 26 batches of thousands of founders over the past 10 years, 500 is shaking things up.

We’re proud to announce that we’ve designed an entirely new platform that’s flexible and tailored to our founders’ timing and needs—not our own. Our goal is to move away from the one-size-fits-all approach of the past, and towards delivering relevant content, based on each founders’ growth stage and needs, precisely when they’re ready for it. 

This new flexible approach reinforces our continued commitment to invest in founders from all over the world. We realize it’s not always feasible for every founder to move to San Francisco for four months at the drop of a hat, and we want to accommodate for that.

You can expect to see our new model in action in the near future. After we wrap up Batch 26’s Demo Day on March 26th, our accelerator applications will open indefinitely. We’ll begin accepting founders to our program on a continuous rolling basis, with more flexibility on start and end dates. That means no more application deadlines, and no more missing out on companies because the timing isn’t right. There will still be two demo days per year and plenty of opportunities to take advantage of the expertise the entire 500 community has to offer — all that changes is our flexibility to invest in companies and founders we believe in and their ability to join our programming when it’s the right time for them.

Founders can still expect the same high-quality, hands-on experience and dedicated mentorship that 500 has become known for.

We’re excited for this new platform to open up doors for founders who may have otherwise not been able to join our program, and to set them up for success on their own terms. 

Apply for our SF Accelerator here


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