We are only a few months into 2016 and I am already thrilled with all of the startup activity throughout New Hampshire. Alpha Loft has selected its next batch of startups to participate in Accelerate NH, a New Hampshire focused startup accelerator. We will be guiding these startups and their founders through a three month program of education, mentorship, networking and much more.
The topic of timing came to mind during the review process for Accelerator applicants.
A difficult selection process such as this can be frustrating to some. However, I found myself more excited than ever. Many of the applicants to the Accelerate NH program had excellent backgrounds and a unique concept they were building a startup around.
Some of these startups were just too early stage for our program to make the most impact. That doesn’t mean we are not able to help, rather it means that we have many other programs that will be more helpful.
Frequently we find ourselves wondering about timing. Is now the right time to leave my job and focus on the startup full time? Should I be trying to find investors now, or wait until my product is further along and I have found market fit? When should I hire my first employee? Is there a better time to send out press releases or pitch my startup to journalists?
The answer to these questions, and more, often come from experience. Harsh experiences can teach us valuable lessons. Sometimes those are very expensive in terms of capital, time or emotional energy. We don’t always have to learn these lessons the hard way, however. A key component to any accelerator is its mentor network. Mentors are people who guide less experienced people through a decision making process based on experience and cumulative wisdom. Their goal is not to make decisions for a startup founder, but rather to provide perspective and lessons learned which will hopefully clarify the founders path through the often confusing and difficult process of starting a company. We aim to connect mentors to startups based on background, interest and areas of expertise.
A startup need not be in an Accelerator program to have a mentor. Founders might be surprised to learn just how many people are happy and interested in giving back to the startup community by offering their perspective and experience.
All too often we may be afraid to look needy or inexperienced, and miss opportunities to connect for helpful advice. Others may seek out those well-known or famous entrepreneurs but who have no connection to the founder, startup or community. Asking someone in that situation almost always results in a no, if there’s any response at all. The volume of requests someone like that gets combined with the lack of personal context rarely leads to a connection.
How can you go about finding guidance? Start by asking yourself a few simple questions. Do I know anyone in industries similar to the one I am attempting to work in? Are there any meetups, seminars, conferences, etc. that are low cost and easily accessible? Who are the appropriate people for me to follow on social media and do they seem interested in engaging with others? How can I engage with them in a positive, respectful way?
Great mentor relationships don’t happen overnight. Nor are they created in a vacuum. Mentor relationships, like all relationships, build over time out of mutual interest and respect. Can you engage people, inspire them with your startup vision and your ability to execute on it? Developing a relationship with a mentor can be quite valuable and fulfilling for both parties, though meeting the right person is a matter of timing.
Sometimes we’re not looking for a mentor, but we need to address specific questions and get some guidance. In that case consider leveraging one or more of the many resources you can find throughout the state. I recommend going to the resources tab of the NH Live Free & Start website http://livefreeandstart.com. There you’ll find out about the five incubators spread throughout the state, the NH Small Business Development Center, SCORE and much more. On top of the many organizations offering counseling, investigate the many workshops, seminars, networking events and more happening regularly throughout the state. Just now I am sitting at Alpha Loft in Manchester while the International Game Developers Association of New Hampshire is holding a five-hour workshop on virtual reality. It is a free event and open to the public, as are many events for startups.
Like others, Alpha Loft holds office hours for startup founders. We run programs such as our accelerator, and each month we provide workshops on a variety of startup topics and at least one networking event. Our three locations also play host to area technology groups holding free meetups on topics such as Wordpress, .net, game development, Clojure, and full stack Web applications. One last word of advice: Take care not to spend so much time attending events that you are sacrificing time and attention that needs to be focused on your startup. As with most things, find the right balance.
Joshua Cyr is the director of education and acceleration at Alpha Loft. He has previously worked in marketing agencies and co-founded a commercial content management system startup, Savvy Software, serving as its chief technology officer. Cyr also serves as city councilor for the city of Portsmouth. He can be found on twitter @jcyr or email firstname.lastname@example.org