This article originally featured on Tom's Linkedin.
"Accelerators are just a load of free webinars and a lot of back-patting by the local start-up scene"
That's what I used to think about accelerators before I knew anything about them and importantly, before I had experienced a great one.
I feel embarrased that I adopted that conclusion as my own – miserable, cynical so-and-so…
I'd read that general sentiment several times on twitter and had heard it from the "old and bolds" elsewhere (usually right before they tried to sell me their own series of webinars!).
I (and they) couldn’t have been more wrong.
It’s a bit of a cliché that’s been said by nearly everyone I’ve met who’s been through the same programme, but I’m going to say it anyway:
Ignite changed my life.
I had this nagging doubt in my mind that surely all accelerators weren’t a complete waste of time. And I’m glad I did. In November 2021, I decided to attend a networking event at By The River Brew Co. in Newcastle where Ignite would be announcing the details of their new pre-accelerator programme.
The event was a reunion event for the alumni as well as an announcement for the new programme. Alumni from previous years had come along to meet with old cohort mates.
I was instantly struck by the intensity of the conversation and the passionate, genuine questions these alumni would ask each other about their businesses. These were deep, searching conversations had so casually over a drink. I was in awe at the questions as well as the answers, they were all purely business but were asked in a manner that made them feel deeply personal.
They were also questions I would never have thought to ask.
These people weren’t colleagues, they all worked on their own businesses. They weren’t family and for the most part, they weren’t “old pals”, and yet they all seemed so deeply connected because they had all been through the Ignite programme.
I applied for the Ignite programme because I wanted to be capable of similar conversations of my own… and because about 20 of the alumni told me to!
I didn’t just meet the Ignite community that night.
As you’d expect, most of the night was spent stood in circles of networking, start-up-chatting, nervously excited applicants for the Ignite programme. In one such circle, I met Nikhil. I told him all about my start-up and he told me all about his. We discussed the excitement and risks of going all-in on a start-up and we discussed our mutual ambitions to get onto the Ignite programme.
In that very same circle, Nikhil and I also met Kevin, a friend of Ignite and a keen angel investor (although we didn’t know that at the time!).
To cut an actually-not-that-long story short, a couple of weeks later, Nikhil, Kevin and I were sat in a café discussing our first pre-seed investment round, in which Kevin would become the lead investor. Nikhil had decided to put his own start-up on ice and join Grid Finder as CTO.
As far as networking events go, I’d say that was pretty successful! Thanks Ignite!
Nikhil and I applied for the Ignite programme as Team Grid Finder – and we got in! We joined a cohort of 15 incredible teams, each with the same energy and curiosity that Nikhil and I had.
A couple of months after the networking event the programme started. I took my seat at the Ignite table, ready to feed on all the knowledge and insights they would provide. It would be hard to try and summarise the key learning points from the course and I expect that every team from my cohort took away different lessons that they’ll carry forever.
I’m not going to be tempted into writing a “7 tHINgS yOU sHOulD knOw ABoUt tHE IgNITe acCELerAtor” or “3 kEY LeSSOns i LEaRnT frOm igNITE” article.
It would really be pointless to try. The Ignite accelerator really isn’t about facts (although you’ll learn a lot, often hard ones to swallow about your own business), it’s more about changing the way you think. It helps you to properly contextualise and frame key decisions you make. It gives you a timeless set of skills that allows you to structure your process in an efficient, effective way.
More than anything else, Ignite is about joining a community of like-minded individuals who are deeply passionate about learning and are unreservedly questioning of their assumed knowledge on a daily basis.
A lot of the Ignite community returns to the programme to “pay it forward” and help the new cohort by delivering workshops and webinars. Ignite seemingly has an army of incredible well-informed, successful & generous entrepreneurs who are more than happy to give up their time to share their experiences with the accelerator. Over 5 months, we were privileged to receive hours of insightful, challenging, pivot-inducing advice and feedback from Ignite alumni all over the world.
The pre-accelerator culminated in a showcase held at the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle. The 15 teams were going to be pitching their businesses to a room full of VCs, investors and stakeholders in the local tech scene.
I’d done a lot of public speaking before when I was a Naval Officer – but this was different. As an Officer in the military, I was usually delivering orders, briefings and instructions based in fact. There certainly was a wrong and right way to do it.
This on the other hand was different. The content I was delivering was unproven and deeply personal to me. It laid bare my ambitions and assumptions, and offered up the result of great personal sacrifice to scrutiny and opinion by everyone in the room.
Luckily, I was in a room full of friends by this point. Nikhil and I had come to know the other teams; their businesses; their strengths and their insecurities. In the end, I really enjoyed delivering the pitch in that room – I felt like I was in safe hands. Jo, Ian, Joanna, Tristan and all of the other mentors had chosen us and then prepared us for that day. I really had no excuse to feel any sort of imposter syndrome (although I did and always will – like most start-up entrepreneurs).
I can’t thank Ignite enough.
I implore anyone who’s considering building a start-up to reach out to Ignite and apply for the programme. The value of the programme lies in the community. No amount of YouTube videos, one-off webinars or business books can come close to competing with the benefits of a programme like Ignite.