2. You get a built-in network of skilled experts, mentors and investors.
At the end of an accelerator, start-ups usually get a "demo day," a chance to pitch their start-ups to deep-pocketed investors in the hopes of scoring more funding. "The first person who committed to invest in the company, we met through ERA," said Parking Panda's Miller. But being around peers who are also building companies, as well as start-up veterans, is another big perk.
"The most important thing was the access to mentors and other entrepreneurs who are further along than you who have done these things before," said McKeever Conwell, founder of RedBerry, a mobile app that resembles Instagram and allows retailers to gain followers who can then buy merchandise with a click through the app.
Conwell spent last fall at a DreamIt Ventures accelerator in Philadelphia after having spent several months at two previous accelerators, in Baltimore and San Francisco, respectively, when he was at work on a now-shuttered start-up. "I now have a network of people in the Washington, D.C., Bay and Philly areas," he said.
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Elliot Menschik, the former managing director of DreamIt Ventures' health IT accelerator and an adjunct associate professor of engineering entrepreneurship at the University of Pennsylvania, said the "nuts-and-bolts mentorship of 'been there, done it before'" isn't always available at a business school. By contrast, in an accelerator "you're surrounding yourself with people who have been in the trenches and have seen things go wrong," he said.
Still, business schools tout similar sorts of networking opportunities. "Business schools, in general, they have huge alumni networks, and alumni are always willing to help any grad who's starting off," said John Hull, executive director of the Business Innovation Institute at the University of Oregon's Lundquist College of Business. "Accelerators haven't been around long enough to have a huge alumni base. Most business schools have 50 years of living alumni floating around."