All-Remote Startup Accelerators and Incubators You Should Know About
Here’s how they provide value when it’s not about who is in the room
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Today: We’re talking about all-remote startup incubators and accelerators - that were remote pre-COVID - and how they differ from the in-person variety.
The world is waking up to the true potential of remote collaboration. As some companies are struggling with the transition, the New York Times has a simple suggestion for you: maybe you’re doing it wrong. This article brings up some interesting points (and aligns heavily with my view that COVID lockdown is not real remote work).
Conversations continue about productivity, culture, and sales, but an important element has been noticeably absent from the remote business conversation: incubators and accelerators.
If you’re in the startup world, you know incubators and accelerators are critical pieces of infrastructure. The programs offer mentorship, cash, brand prestige, connections to customers, and more for a select group of startups they deem “scalable.” While this model has some flaws in it (to say the least), the accelerator and incubator model has produced some of the world’s most well-known tech companies such as Airbnb, Reddit, Stripe, and Dropbox.
Over the years, brands like YCombinator (“YC” for short), Techstars, Founder Institute, Ryerson DMZ, and a host of other names burst onto the scene as startups in their own right. They took small percentages in equity but gave founders access to much more value in return.
Here’s the problem we face today: much of this value hinged on showing up in-person. YC demo days famously landed startups millions in funding from Silicon Valley VCs - but only if you were actually in the room. Incubators and accelerators around the world heralded how their model worked “best” if you moved to them. As the model grew, so too did the geographic footprint. So while YC remains solely in the Valley, other SV brands and a huge number of local brands exploded all over the world.
If the value of the brand required you to show up in person, what happens when you can’t do that? No one had to forcefully ask that question until COVID hit, but it’s actually a question that a few accelerators and incubators already thought about and planned for.
In this edition, we’re diving into the all-remote incubators and accelerators that planned for the remote revolution before it happened.
TLDR - Here’s who I featured:
Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator
Did I miss a program? Drop a link in the comments
TinySeed is an all-remote, year-long accelerator for bootstrapped SaaS companies. When I spoke with Tracy Osborn, who runs programming at the accelerator, she said being all-remote came from their belief that to help a founder, “you need to get out of their way.” In particular, for the TS team, that meant not forcing them to relocate and offering more support over a longer period of time. With those two goals in mind, remote was the only viable option.
The accelerator uses simple tools (Slack, Notion, email, etc.) to communicate, but here’s what they do to keep community alive:
In regular times, the ~20 founder cohorts would get together three times in-person: a kickstart retreat, a 6-month retreat, and a program-end retreat. Tracy said that the program is one year long, but their hope is that people will stay in the TinySeed community for years to come. Meeting in person a few times helped solidify the relationships they hoped would form.
During COVID, the team is mixing up its virtual networking. Program kickstart is now a round robin 1:1 for every founder to meet each other. Throughout the program, founders are placed in mastermind groups of four to learn about each other more deeply and support each other. Then whole-cohort meetings keep everyone together (though Tracy admits these meetings can get tedious at times).
1 year long.
Fully remote (with three in-person retreats under normal circumstances).
For early-stage bootstrapped SaaS companies.
Learn more: https://tinyseed.com/
Techstars branded itself differently from YCombinator by starting local hubs outside of Silicon Valley. Where YC maintained its belief that high-growth startups needed the Valley energy, Techstars believed that scaling companies can be built everywhere. So it makes sense that the next iteration of their program was to remove their physical infrastructure and launch Techstars Anywhere (the program went live in 2017).
The model is simple: follow Techstars “mentor-driven” accelerator model, a 3-month program. However, do it remotely.
With the Techstars brand behind you and the opportunity to apply from truly anywhere, this program has a ton of potential for high-growth tech startups.
Follows the Techstars accelerator model.
3 months long.
Upwards of $100k available in funding.
Learn more: https://www.techstars.com/accelerators/anywhere
Propel is a startup accelerator explicitly for startups from Atlantic Canada (which are the four provinces in Canada that border the Atlantic Ocean - Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island).
The choice to go online was one of access: startup coach Derek Latham told me that the program was built remotely in order to “help founders in rural/remote areas of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI and Newfoundland.” In specific, they didn’t want to pull innovative entrepreneurs out of their communities but empower them to build their businesses from anywhere.
Startups in the accelerator get access to a full learning management system, said Latham, which holds all of the programming for founders to access at any time. From there, program managers and startup coaches facilitate live introductions to mentors, funders, and customers via zoom coffee chats, capturing a lot of the casual, laid-back, warm-intro vibes that startup accelerators became famous for.
Latham also shared with me that while the accelerator is focused on Atlantic Canadians, the Propel network is not. So if you get accepted into the program, you’ll have access to a global network of potential customers, mentors, and funders.
Focus on community (their “Ecosystem”).
Upwards of $50k+ available for startups.
Learn more: https://www.propelict.com/
Founders Fund uses the digital accelerator model to support businesses founded by women. Founded in Canada, COO Amanda Baker told me the mission of the accelerator is to support as many women-identifying entrepreneurs as possible. With that mission in mind, remote was the best tool available.
The accelerator works on a membership model - $225 CAD (about $185 USD) for the year - which gives founders access to the Founders Fund community, events, a library of resources, and monthly mentorship sessions.
Baker also shared three additional reasons why Founders Fund opted for the remote model:
Access to other founders in vastly different locations and cultures.
Recordings of everything we do (meaning your schedule never gets in the way of attending sessions).
The ability for us to scale our community globally to include chapters of the organization in every major city across the world.
For companies majority owned by people identifying as women.
Ongoing annual memberships.
Up to $50k in funding available.
Full library of DIY resources and regular mentorship.
Learn more: https://foundersfund.ca/
Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator
The Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator proudly touts its remote moniker, saying on its FAQ page that “it is not the old startup accelerator model of desk, pipe, and power with common space.”
Whatever your opinions on their branding, the accelerator is very clear that it wants global participants. Not only does Wells itself have clients around the world, but it owns or invests in over 80 businesses that it hopes accelerator startups might “spark innovation” in.
For founders worried about whether a program like this makes you just an extension of Wells, it wants to be clear: all investments are passive and Wells will not ask for board representation. With up to $1 million available plus access to global markets, this could be a good fit for companies.
6 months of programming with the option to extend if a solution can be piloted across Wells Fargo’s business lines.
Intended for startups tackling issues in the banking and financial services industry, but topics can vary (robotics, digital marketing, and wearables, for example, are all welcome to apply).
Up to $1,000,000 in funding available per startup plus priority access to Wells Fargo (or its portfolio companies) as a potential customer.
Learn more: https://accelerator.wf.com/index.html
Newchip offers three accelerator programs geared to different stages of the business:
Pre-accelerator for MVP-level startups.
Pre-seed accelerator for startups with early traction.
Series A accelerator for startups ready to scale.
Each program is entirely remote and offers funding, mentorship, and online educational programming. While the Pre-accelerator is self-paced, the Seed and Series A accelerators are 3-6 month programs that have certain minimums of how much revenue (or fundraising) a company must have already gotten before they qualify.
From there, Newchip boasts having over 100,000 investors that have funneled over $100 million into accelerated startups, with each company getting up to $250,000 from the accelerator. However, investment is not a guarantee on acceptance, like it is with other programs such as Techstars or YC. Startups will need to pitch and earn the funding on top of being accepted into the educational side of the accelerator.
Three levels of accelerators geared to different startup stages.
Up to $250,000 available in funding per startup in the Seed and Series A accelerators.
Access to numerous discounted or free services from companies like AWS, Google, and Clearbanc.
Learn more: https://launch.newchip.com/
Honourable mentions: funds, platforms, and other remote programs:
Startup-O: A founder-funder matching platform with access to both equity and equity-free funders.
Weekend Fund: A fund investing in “crazy” startups that also runs Fundraise From Home, a weekly remote pitch community with over 10 investors watching on a regular basis.
YCombinator Startup School: YC took all its programming and made it free, online, and self-paced. You don’t get the funding or demo day, but the content itself is all there.
dlab: A virtual incubator explicitly for blockchain startups.
Know of any other all-remote accelerators and incubators? Drop a link in the comments! ⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️