This article is part of a series on the Springboard process.
Like everyone else, we try to find the best companies in the world for our accelerator.
We have a solid track record over 14 years, and we are often asked how we find the companies we select. Sometimes I will joke and say that we look under every rock, but that is only half true.
The truth is that we use a combination of strategies, some more effective than others, some better executed than others.
My hope is that these lessons learned will be useful for others managing accelerator programs, especially up-and-coming platforms like Equita and Upstart that support women-led companies like us.
Strategy #1: Source referrals from our network
We have built a network of experts that believe in and support us, made up of people who know the quality of our programs and our relentless advocacy for our women.
Regardless of the industry or location focus of our programs, the majority of each accelerator class comes to us as a referral from someone we know and trust.
So when we start our call for applications, we devote time to engaging our core network and equipping them with sample emails and tweets to promote Springboard to their contacts.
But even with 14 years in business, this isn't a lean-back process. We practice patient persistence to tease out introductions from our busy, but well-connected and well-respected advisors and alumnae. Given our history of finding strong referrals based on direct introductions, we've learned this is a really good investment of our time.
On the Springboard application, like many other accelerator applications, there's a field that asks who referred them. We look closely at this field, and we do reference check. If an entrepreneur found us online, we'd rather have them network to someone we know and ask them to be a reference, than put "Google" as their referral source.
Entrepreneurs need to be determined, aggressive and strong networkers. In some ways this question is a litmus test for those qualities.
Strategy #2: Always Be Recruiting
A CEO's job is to recruit and retain the best talent to help them grow their business, and those that do it well are always recruiting. They always know the next few people they need to bring onboard, and not just the role they need to fill but the specific person they want to fill it.
That's the ideal way to approach recruiting for an accelerator.
Since we've established ourselves and our brand, we have a pipeline that gives us a constant flow of interesting entrepreneurs out-of-cycle. We track them on a "prospect list" and include them on our email list so they know when applications open. Engaging this network to stay "top of mind" is a smart approach that even we could stand to improve.
Strategy #3: Promote through partner organizations
We believe entrepreneurship doesn't happen in a vacuum.
So every year, we team up with other like-minded organizations and accelerators to co-promote. They help us promote our call for applications to their network, and we agree to do the same for relevant events and opportunities for our network.
Usually these Pipeline Partners are like us and establish similar relationships with a number of other organizations, so our Springboard message becomes one among a menu of opportunities that are presented before these other networks.
We have better success when we ask the leaders of these groups what their personal recommendations are.
Strategy #4: Press
Sometimes we have put out a press release announcing our new application cycle, other times we haven't. It's made no noticeable difference in the number or quality of our applications.
But what has worked is to target a couple of hyper-relevant media platforms, like our friends at Women 2.0, and write up a guest post.
Strategy #5: Proactively target companies
We never sit back and let the companies just get referred to us.
So each application cycle we develop a target list of companies, and network our way to the woman/women at the helm of those companies.
It's something we've done since day one at Springboard, and how we recruited Pamela Contag, a seriel entrepreneur and founder of Xenogen, one of our 11 Springboard IPOs. She's now a Springboard board member, and it all started by convincing her assistant at the time to complete the application.
Although her business was a biotechnology company, this strategy is generally easier for targeting technology companies than life sciences companies, because life sciences is an industry where businesses are less likely to have a meaningful enough public presence to signal to us that we ought to take a closer look.
We find our targets through referrals, media, and also platforms like Mattermark and Angellist.
We use the law of three to guide our recruitment. We assume that if someone hasn't heard about Springboard from three different sources then they won't apply. It takes dedication to make that happen, but we do it.
We want the best.