Vetting an Incubator in the UAE

Working with one of Dubai’s earliest incubator/accelerator, and interacting with other accelerators got me to realise that startups looking for accelerators in this region might actually have different needs than those in the Europe or even the States.

So looking for the ideal accelerator is always challenging, and here are a few pointers that I’ve found posted by Eric Markowitz of INC that could help you get started:

Here are five basic principles to keep in mind:

1) Location is key. “Back in the olden days, if you were a scholar of any sort, you would go to Rome and Athens,” said Garry Tan. “If you’re serious [about tech start-ups], you come to Silicon Valley.” It’s also worth noting that you should be in the best place for your particular industry. So if it’s media or fashion, New York may win out over California. The point is to choose the location wisely–it can have a material impact on the success of your company in its early stages.

2) Look at the growth–and cohesion of the companies who have graduated. Katie Rae, a partner at TechStars Boston, says she judges the success of her classes based not only the growth of the firms that graduate, but also whether or not the teams were able to stay together in the long run.

3) The IRR of the firm. The internal rate of return on a given incubator might not be the easiest figure to come by, but from a financial perspective, it’s important to see if the program has a proven track record of producing “winners.” Beyond IRR, look at the quality of the engineering talent on-boarded by graduates of the program. That can be a good indicator of the program’s eventual success.

4) How much capital raised by portfolio companies. This is a metric you should track, but not obsess about. “We do not tell them to focus too much on fundraising,” Garry Tan says. “People get so focused on fundraising that they don’t focus on the business.”

5) Can the accelerator expand your network? Ultimately, the most valuable thing about an accelerator is the people. Check out who else is involved–both advisors and other entrepreneurs entering the class–and then make them your best friends.