SAN FRANCISCO — When Neha Singh was accepted to The New York Fashion Tech Lab, a programme that connects fashion-tech startups with major retailers, in 2017, her virtual reality shopping startup Obsess caught the attention of Vera Bradley. The handbag brand, an NYFTLab sponsor, subsequently worked with Obsess on a heavily publicised project.
“Vera Bradley is not a brand that you think of being super tech-forward, but it was a big success for both of them,” says NYFTLab managing director Jackie Trebilcock. Singh, who had studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before working for Google and American Vogue, later raised her first round of funding and partnered with Farfetch, Levi’s, Tommy Hilfiger and Ulta Beauty.
Graduating from a top accelerator or incubator can be as career-defining for a startup founder as an elite university diploma. The intensive programmes, which are often just a few months long, help startups refine and grow before a “pitch day” to potential investors and press. Such schemes provide mentorship, money and networking, often in exchange for equity in the company.
As legacy companies increasingly look to startups to inject innovation, the incentives to join one are heightened — but so is the level of competition. Here, leaders from top incubators reveal how to stand out. The following interviews have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity
“The more plain-spoken your pitch, the better.” — Dalton Caldwell, head of admissions and partner at Y Combinator,which has invested in Zyper and Spate.
We are looking for two really important things. One is the technical skills to build the product without any external parties necessary because hiring contractors or outsourcing the work ends up zapping time. The second is a unique perspective on the things they want to build because pretty much every idea has already been come up with and it didn't work. Lots of teams haven't done basic research.
We recommend having one co-founder versus doing it yourself. Avoid jargon — the more plain-spoken in your pitch, the better. And showing concrete action, like talking to customers or building a prototype, shows you are serious. For many people, the idea is 100 per cent theoretical.
Software that enables new businesses to be created — platforms like Etsy or Shopify — tends to work out really well. I’m excited to see people build enabling technologies — the platforms, the payments, the logistics — the unsexy part of things. There is so much opportunity.
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