When most people think of the core value of top-tier universities, they think it’s obviously to educate top students. While that may be true, there is a strong argument that education is actually secondary to top universities’ “sorting” function; in other words, by credibly filtering out and selecting the most elite among millions of students, universities help employers and other people find those students more easily.
Sidenote: there’s empirical evidence suggesting that students who get into the ivy league but don’t attend do just as well as those who do attend, lending backing to the idea that top universities are far more about sorting and finding talent than developing it.
Top-tier accelerators are the elite universities of startup ecosystems. As “doing startups” has become more of a thing and the number of entrepreneurs has gone up (correlating inversely with the drop in cost of starting companies), business ecosystems have become far more “noisy.” More pitches, more teams, more ideas, make it much harder for interested investors to sort through and find the cream. It’s the exact same problem employers have with students.
Here in Colorado, Techstars is clearly the most notable accelerator, although there are others here and throughout the country. Ask entrepreneurs about the value of the educational content of these accelerators, and feedback will vary; but almost universally founders will say that the top ones pay for themselves simply from the network they open up for you by putting their stamp on your startup; just like a Harvard or MIT.
Are accelerators necessary for startup founders to succeed? Absolutely, positively not. The large majority of successful companies we work with never touched an accelerator. But for entrepreneurs lacking strong connections to investors and other key players early on, they can dramatically accelerate a startup’s ability to find capital, advisors, etc.; and should be strongly considered.