Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Are the top accelerator programs’ network of mentors actually responsible for the formation of fast-growing successful businesses?

Proposal: SNA Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Mentor Networks of A US Top Accelerator Programs
Theodore Taylor (sadly I am not taking the second half of the class - I have no more credits available this semester despite my desire to do so)
Accelerator programs are increasingly sought after by budding entrepreneurs. These programs offer vast sources of knowledge and mentorship networks. Success can often follow in line for those fortunate to join some of the country’s top accelerator programs. Companies like Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit all participated in programs which helped the managers along the road to their wildly popular success.
Forbes Magazine issues an annual “Best of Startup Accelerator” ranking, the most recent of which selected twenty-three companies spread across three tiers, nine of representing the crème de la crème. One of the highest considerations when ranking the accelerators was the mentorship network. The leader of the Seed Accelerator Program and a professor of entrepreneurship at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business said in the article, “If the mentors don’t look like the top tier of people, that should be a red flag…It’s not enough to bring in local businessmen, the mentors have to have real experience to give these startups.” (Solomon - Forbes 2016)
I have two major questions. “What is real experience?” and “Does this "real experience" translate into future success for others?” Presumably the top accelerators have the most people with the most “real experience” resulting in the highest likelihood of success for startups. So why isn’t every company coming out these highly touted accelerator programs producing massive, billion dollar enterprises ready to IPO within a short period? Certainly there are many factors involved in the success of a company outside which play a part. Perhaps, there is a lost potential and inefficient dynamics within the transfer of experience and knowledge to the next generation of business leaders.
So, are these highly pursued mentorship networks successful at helping entrepreneurs reach their dreams? Or is it something else, e.g. the experience of working with others “in the same boat” in a cohort? What does social network analysis have to say about who the best mentors are? What can be done if the best mentors are found but accelerator programs are not effectively dispersing their knowledge, information and “real experience”? How can accelerators more efficiently use their human capital and knowledge to increase the success of their participants?
Objective/Find Out:
  • Who are the leaders, boundary spanners or access agents in the top accelerator programs?
  • Are these “best” mentors helping business owners in the cohorts grow enterprises?
  • If so, what makes them more successful at doing this?
  • What can accelerators do to more effectively utilize their mentor networks to prepare business leaders for success?
  • Mentors with over 10 years of particular industry experience were effective in helping grow businesses in the same industry of expertise
  • Men were more successful at mentoring men, but women were more successful at mentoring businesses overall.
  • Mentors who met more often resulted in stronger influences in each classes’ success.
  • A mentor with at least one successful company, i.e. to IPO or hold a chief position at a firm that exceeds $100M in annual revenue are very successful.
  • Mentors who lived physically within the same city as a top accelerator program would be more likely to cause success.
  • Extroverts were just as impactful as introverts.
  • Accelerator programs located in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York and Boston had more successful mentor programs.
  • Mentors with MBAs were not more successful than those mentors without graduate business degrees.
We could begin with connecting with the one of the top nine awarded accelerator programs. I worked for a company that was a part of the Techstars Accelerator Program. We could begin with this one since they have a significant presence in Boston.
Taking the past five years’ worth of cohorts, we could poll the businesses which were a part of each cohort asking the network questions. Working with the staff of the programs, we would be able to pull an attribute data file on the mentors and a list of companies in the various cohorts. Then tracking cohorts following their program success would give the necessary data to establish success for the company. Success for a company is measured by achieving profitability within 18 months or significant scale up of operations relative to entry point of accelerator (3x growth).  
Then we could run a social network analysis on the data. Some of the primary items to focus upon are:
  • Degree, Between-ness & Eigenvector: Who were the popular, high level and emerging leaders in the network? Who held few connections but were able to impact companies effectively?
  • Running directed centrality metrics would give us the ability to know how information flowed across the network as well. This could give insight into whether accelerator programs are built with effective distribution of information and “real experience”.
Survey Questions:
  • How often did meet you with the following mentors for advice on something related to your business during your time at the accelerator program?
  • Now that you are out of the program, how often have you turned to the following mentors for advice on something related to your business?

Attribute Data
  • Gender (Male/Female)
  • Age (Brackets)
  • Which Industries with Experience? (Pre-defined & other)
  • Total years of professional experience? In which industries?
  • Owned/Senior Executive of a Company? Fortune 500?
  • Been a part of an IPO with a company?
  • Personality? (Extroverted vs. Introverted)
  • Business School? Graduate School? Which Ones?
  • What Region of the US are you located? (8 major regions)
  • 150 programs were deemed eligible by Forbes Magazine
  • Each cohort was a fixed term & included both educational sessions & mentorship


1 comment:

Christopher Tunnard said...

This is a hot topic, and you've taken a good approach towards looking at mentorships in the startup-sphere. You've clearly done some thinking on the methodology, and, while it will need some refinement (as will the scope of the nets you'll select, but you've noted that,) it's a very good start. John Clemow is undertaking a similar study in the course (see his blog entry,) and he could learn fro your thinking. I'll ask him to get in touch with you.

Let me know if you every want to realize this worthwhile project.