Getting Started

How to Choose an Entrepreneurship Program

You recognize that you and your business could benefit from joining an entrepreneurship program. But, there are so many programs out there to choose from. How do you know which program is right for you? This week, we’re sharing some tips on what to think about when choosing an entrepreneurship program.

Is the Program a Cultural Fit?

Enrolling in an entrepreneurship program means you are joining a community of entrepreneurs. This can be a great opportunity to gain insights, encouragement, and accountability from a network of peers. But if the program is not aligned with your values or doesn’t create a safe space for collaboration, you might end up feeling just as, or even more, lonely than you would if you weren’t in a program. Before you apply for a program, make sure the culture is a good fit for you. Read up and ask around to find out what it’s like to be in the program and determine if you would benefit from participating in the community.

What is the Program’s Track Record?

It’s important to understand the entrepreneurship program’s track record. Have they worked with similar businesses, whether it’s the same industry or similar business models, at the same stage as your business? How did they support those businesses? What results have those businesses had? Sometimes you can find a list of businesses they’ve worked with on their website, but not all programs make this information publicly available. Look for any online reviews or testimonials. And, don’t be afraid to ask if you can speak to some of their alumni.

Can You Handle the Program’s Workload?

An entrepreneurship program offers a structure for you to focus on your business. This ranges from coming onto an online class once a week to being resident in-person at an incubator location for a defined period of time. The level of rigor also ranges from only attending lectures to having mandatory business development activities and review processes with advisors. Consider the amount of time and energy you can dedicate to developing your business through a program. Apply to those programs where you know you will be able to honor the program’s expectations and time commitments.

Who’s Involved in Delivering the Program?

A major benefit of entrepreneurship programs is access to experts. Look at who is involved in delivering the program to find out if they have a track record as an entrepreneur and whether their experiences could be beneficial to your business’s development. Also, access to experts can range from only interacting with an instructor during an online lecture to having a deep level of support through in-person instruction, group activities, and dedicated one-on-one mentoring sessions. There’s a significant difference between participation in a webinar and meaningful mentorship, so be sure you understand how much support you will receive through the program.

What Other Resources Does the Program Provide?

In addition to curriculum and mentorship, some entrepreneurship programs provide access to free or discounted physical space and support services, such as legal, accounting, and human resource assistance. They may also be able to leverage deep relationships with potential funders and other business service providers to support their program participants. Look at their website to see who their partners are, and ask how they connect business owners with additional support when needed.

Does the Program Provide Appropriate Value?

While there are some entrepreneurship programs that are free, most charge a program fee, require a contribution of an equity stake, or a combination of both in order to help fund the program’s operations. Of course, as an entrepreneur just getting started, you want to keep your upfront expenses low. At the same time, cheaper is not always better. Look at what you are giving up in terms of cash or ownership in your business and what you are getting in return for your investment in the program. Think about the value you will get out of the program through its curriculum, mentorship, community, and access to other resources, as well as the credibility your business will receive from being affiliated with it. Investing a little bit more in a program fee or contribution of equity may save you time and money and provide better outcomes for your business in the long run.

If you are looking to join an entrepreneurship program to get started as a freelancer, small business owner, or startup founder, check out our accelerators in San Francisco and Oakland. Applications for our Launching a Business module and Freelancer Accelerator are due January 26.

image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons