Making the Most of Growth-Stage Accelerators for Climate Startups
Early-stage accelerators help startups get off the ground, but there are many more hurdles to overcome as your company grows, especially in climate tech. Your needs change dramatically as you evolve past concept and pilot, and growth-stage accelerators are designed to support these pivotal moments.
In order to get an inside look at growth-stage accelerators, we sat down with Taylor Rowe. Taylor is the Director of Customer and Capital Partnerships at The Clean Fight, a growth-stage accelerator that helps clean energy startups in New York. The Clean Fight’s theory is that innovation is hard, but adoption is harder. They work with companies to accelerate the adoption of climate solutions.
If you’re considering a growth-stage accelerator, or you’ve already been accepted into one, here’s where to put your effort to get the most value out of the program:
#1 Set three key business objectives
Identify specific goals that are achievable during the time period of the accelerator. Ensure that they align with your organization's KPIs or goals for the next 6- to 18-months. These goals should be more explicit than they would be in earlier stage accelerator programs, because now you have more traction.
Effectively setting these goals is a two-step process. Some of this work will be done internally during the application. As you apply, make sure that you understand the program and how your goals plug in.
Once you’ve been accepted, leverage the accelerator team as a thought partner. The program director will help you to refine your thinking and give feedback to get clear on what will be most successful for you. Nail down how you’ll navigate and report on these objectives, in order to maximize value and make sure everyone on your team is bought in.
#2 Identify one or two core blockers that are inhibiting your growth plan
Working backwards from the objectives you’ve set, identify your biggest blockers to growth. These aren’t general blockers - they’re specific to the goals you’ve set for the program. This is an iterative process that often happens through conversations with potential customers. For example, you might discover that your product offering needs to be slightly different in order to be eligible for a utility incentive. That feedback further clarifies your blocker and what you need to adjust going forward.
Both you and the accelerator team will engage in these conversations and get feedback from your potential customers. For instance: a startup has been selling directly to owner operators, but they’re getting feedback that potential customers are actually buying products like theirs from a specific channel. They learn that it would be more effective to sell to engineering or sustainability consultants, because those folks are informing the end customer on what to buy.
Together with the accelerator team, you’ll make sense of the feedback and identify how to overcome these challenges (or, act on these new opportunities).
#3 Make sure you have the right executive team in place and ready to engage
Be explicit with the accelerator program director and ask them: “How should I best resource this to be most successful?” Most people don’t think to ask this important question, because if you participated in an earlier stage accelerator, you probably did so as a CEO or Founder.
It’s important to ensure the right team carves out the time to be involved - understanding key dates throughout the program and setting aside time to prep and follow-up, adding follow-ups to your internal sales pipeline, etc. It's a tactical thing, but incredibly important.
For example, participants have said the value they got from introductions was worth their weight in gold, and they wished they’d had a VP of Sales sooner so they could have more quickly acted on those conversations. You have to be in a place where you can be ruthless about following up, and you need to have the right roles filled to do that.
The most success happens when companies come into the accelerator with key roles in place and the program is aligned with the work that you’re already trying to do. In this case, anything you do within the program is aligned with the business’s goals, which will just make your job easier.
#4 Remember the accelerator staff is an extension of your team - they can tactically engage
Help the program help you. Participants often relate to the program staff as advisors, but they can also help you on a tactical level. They bring their own relationships to the table, and can help make connections. Let’s say you’ve been working on a deal for months and you’re not getting an email response. You can ask the accelerator team to help with that. They can reach out, and the majority of the time they can help get things back on track. Remember that they aren’t just there to offer counsel, but to actually engage as an extension of your team.
#5 Establish and invest in the relationships
A big focus in any accelerator is relationship building. With a growth-stage accelerator, there’s a unique opportunity to actually partner with the other folks in the accelerator program. You may discover alignment around bundling solutions, finding co-selling opportunities, or going after a partner together. Usually the cohort companies are far enough along that it makes sense to explore these kinds of collaborations. Don’t overlook the tremendous value in these relationships.
#6 Explore opportunities to diversify your capital stack
If you haven't yet, a growth-stage accelerator is a great time to explore opportunities to diversify your capital stack. Most growth-stage climate companies are exploring working capital, project finance, and other financing options. Non-dilutive financing is a key piece of efficiently capitalizing your growing climate tech startup, so make sure to engage the program staff and partners for advice around getting the money you need to scale.
Taylor Rowe is the Director of Customer and Capital Partnerships at The Clean Fight. The Clean Fight is a NYSERDA, U.S. DOE, and U.S. EDA funded accelerator that helps growth-stage climate tech startups from around the world scale in New York to speed a just energy transition. In her role, she helps the market demonstrate, deploy, purchase, finance, and invest in innovation that supports ambitious decarbonization goals. Taylor previously launched the first VC-backed credit card for the underbanked as a Product Manager at Mission Lane (formerly a division of LendUp). She began her career as the co-founder of Unreasonable at Sea, an around-the-world accelerator that supported startups profitably solving pressing global challenges. She’s currently a Venture Partner for Republic. Taylor received an MSc in Behavioral Science from the London School of Economics and a BS in Finance and Economics from the University of Denver. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband who is an artist.