Accelerators · Entrepreneurship

Are startup accelerators a viable option for a company who’s product is primarily a brand with creative learning experiences and hands-on activities?

Ben Faubion Digital Product Design, UX/UI, Design Management and Advising

January 2nd, 2018

I’ve been working with startups for years as a self-employed designer, and in my free time have been creating a kid’s educational brand that I’d like to grow. The products are a mix of apps, downloads, and physical items combined with hands-on creative activities, and they also involve characters and stories focused around “maker culture”. Considering this brand isn’t a traditional tech startup, would a tech accelerator still be a viable avenue for growth, or should I consider something more targeted towards children’s brand and I.P growth?

Michael Docherty New venture creation at the intersection of corporates and startups.

Last updated on January 4th, 2018

Hi Ben,

Actually, from your brief description I'd say that you're attacking some areas that are on trend and I'd counsel you to avoid the trap of thinking if it's not a pure software play that it's not of interest to accelerators or investors. You need to play to your strengths:

  1. Sound like you're innovating with the 'internet of things' (IoT) and in spite of all of the buzzwords and hype, few have figured out how to develop customer-driven solutions at the intersection of the physical and digital realms.
  2. You're on trend with a focus on 'maker culture'. There's a growing interest in additive manufacturing, rapid prototyping, as well as mass customization that puts the design into the end user's hands.
  3. Potentially, you're promoting an innovation that enables business model innovation and unique or multiple (and recurring) forms of revenue, rather than selling widgets. Investors like this. :-)

On the downside, there's more interest these days (especially with IoT) in enterprise B2B or industrial startups than there is in consumer-facing startups.

But that leads back to your core question and you need to find accelerators and investors who focus on these areas. Here are a few (not knowing your location). You'll see that I have a bent toward the Midwest:

  • Brandery - I've been a mentor for this Cincinnati-based accelerator since its inception and they are one of the best in approaching startups from a brand perspective rather than technology focus. You have plenty of time to apply for 2018 cohort. Your idea is a great fit for the Brandery's focus on consumer-facing, branded startups (lots of mentors from P&G and supporting ecosystem of marketing/branding experts).
  • AlphaGear Lab - Pittsburgh based accelerator, with a focus on hardware. Sponsored and supported by (local fund and economic dev group), AlphaGear is hardware-oriented and don't underestimate the talent (and support) in Pittsburgh, with CMU, Google, Uber and others in town. Starts in June, so good timing for you.
  • Highway1 - SF based and newer hardware-focused accelerator that is an offshoot of large product development firm called PCH based in Ireland and China. Nice thing about this one is the built-in support for going to market through their infrastructure.
  • There are definitely others, but here's an article from Sculpteo with a decent list of their own 'top ten' hardware accelerators.
  • Of course, you could also go the route of incubators vs accelerators, where it's less 'cohort' focused and more about space and support. I'd put Ascender in Pittsburgh (Jan. 5!) and NextFab in Philadelphia in this list.

If you're early stage (idea stage, pre-revenue) and flexible on location, an accelerator (or incubator) program is a great choice and a nice litmus test of your idea... so I'd say go for it!

Hope this helps,


MARK S. 3x Entrepreneur (Sold my 2nd) Biz Conslt. & Tech. Founder

January 2nd, 2018

Hi Ben,

Where you're a designer working w/startups - I'm a serial tech. entrepreneur supplementing income doing freelance design & marketing for small businesses - so I feel comfortable in answering this. The short answer to your question is - No! Startup accelerators are primarily for B2B or B2C companies in high growth markets typically w/several co-founders targeting serious invetment capital (usually Series A funding). I once had a design client based on the west coast that has a similar companiy, a bit of capital & a small modicum of traction whom introduced me to: & - what you need is strong brand identity & awareness, IP protection, (as you stated), deep contacts either in w/area school districts or teaching organizations & non-profits willing to tout your product & a team of child psychologists backing up your methods. Other things would be great as well such as case studies, video testimonials, a highly engaged FB group for parents/teachers etc.

All in all, I'm assuming you're wanting to join a startup accelerator to pickup business accumen & strategy that you may feel you're lacking. Either way, you can utilize SCORE, Youtube, Udemy or Founders Institute for the basics & then some. A tech. accelerator is moreso going to focus on traditional tech. dev/coding/UX etc. while you need more so UI & rollout strategy that a good business or marketing consultant can aid you in. Hope this helped!

Joanna Weber Joined the corporate masses (account no longer active)

January 2nd, 2018

This is a couple of years old, but there's a nice landscape map here. NB: Imagine K12 is now part of Y Combinator.

Varun Kumar

January 2nd, 2018

Hello, have a query

Rebecca Witonsky Autistic Entrepreneur and Tax Preparer

Last updated on January 2nd, 2018

Dear Mr. Faubion: Each tech accelerator has its own rules for deciding exactly which types of businesses or industries they will accept for their program. So the key is to research the policy of each tech accelerator individually and determine whether they will accept your business and on what financial terms and what time frame.

You should consider applying to Y combinator, which says they will accept ed tech firms and so should be open to your business. Their standard deal is to invest $120,000 USD in exchange for 7% equity in your business. their website is and has the application form available online.

If you find you cannot get into a tech accelerator, then another option to consider is to enter a business incubator. Most regions and many cities have incubators that accept businesses from a wide range of industries including possibly your firm.

Anil Gupta

January 3rd, 2018

This seems interesting. To answer your question, I need to dig deeper e.g. right now I have no idea on what roadmap you have in mind. How the competitive landscape is? What's the funding scenario? And many more aspects so if you want we can speak in a call. I am reachable at +91 99999 81613 Regards Anil Kumar Gupta Start-up mentor | Ideapreneur | Author | Tech Entrepreneur