Business accelerators help startup companies power up into high-growth organizations. Until recently, accelerators attracted mostly male founders—partly because of their focus on tech, partly because of dorm-like residency requirements that made it hard for female founders with families to participate. But in the past few years, accelerators for women entrepreneurs have begun to proliferate. Here are four we think are pretty cool.
This Houston-based accelerator is entirely virtual, so you can participate no matter where you live. Its goal is to help women entrepreneurs create clarity of purpose, establish strategic partnerships and find access to capital, which the founders believe are the three areas that most challenge women trying to build high-growth companies. Each participant joins a Circle — a group of 10 women who serve as your personal advisory board. In addition, you can access industry-leading mentors, virtual events, investors and discounts from partner organizations. It all culminates in Virtual Demo Day, when you pitch your business online to investors, strategic partners and mentors. Those accepted into each 12-week program continue to receive support after it’s over through the organization’s Alumni Circles, peer advisory boards that continually hold you accountable for accomplishing your goals. The program is held three times a year; apply here.
This St. Louis-based accelerator focuses on women-led startups in the technology, healthcare and consumer product fields. Your business should have a working product and, ideally, customers to be considered. The program runs twice a year and lasts for three months, during which time you’ll need to be in St. Louis for 12 days. Expect to work hard on growing sales and pitching investors, with help from experienced mentors matched to your industry and your stage in business. You also get exposure to sources of capital, and on Demo Day, you’ll pitch to venture capitalists, angel investors and prospective clients. After the program is over, you’ll get follow-up contact from Prosper to help continue your growth. Prosper is currently accepting applications for the spring session, which runs from January through April; apply here.
This immersive program for female founders includes a two-week residency in Silicon Valley, along with 6 months of coaching in leadership and other essential skills for entrepreneurial success. After the program ends, you receive continuing support from the WSL community of alumni. The private, small-group setting provides customized attention to each participant—only 9 female founders are chosen for each group. On Pitch Day, at the end of the program, you’ll pitch your program to investors. Applications are now being accepted for Fall; apply here.
MergeLane is based in Boulder, Colorado, where you must be physically present for the first two weeks and last week of the 12-week program. The rest of the time, you’ll participate in virtual workshops, mentor meetings and leadership coaching sessions; you’ll also be set up with mentor connections in your city of residence. The MergeLane curriculum targets critical early-stage business issues, as well as topics specifically affecting women leaders; rather than focusing on demo-day pitches, as many accelerators for women do, the emphasis is on accelerating businesses and leaders and building great companies. That said, you will gain exposure to a network of angel and institutional investors, and receive an investment of $20,000 from MergeLane. Participating companies must be past the concept stage, with actual sales, contracts or partnerships. Visit MergeLane to apply.
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Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at email@example.com, follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.