Accelerators help build companies quickly and provide a high concentration of support in a short amount of time. These programs provide access to new customers, mentors, educational programming, and other services. But when alumni are interviewed about what they got from the experience, they tend to harp on one benefit in particular, the people they met and the resultant network created.
This makes sense. After all, most companies who go through accelerators will still “fail,” by some measures. They might not become the next Airbnb, Dropbox, SeatGeek, or Uber. Some might go out of business completely. But no one really fails when they go through an accelerator. They might gain something less tangible than a huge a large valuation multiple, but they often leave accelerators having learned valuable lessons and increased . Some change their business model completely.
Communities will develop in any accelerator, hence even some of the less prestigious programs with fewer educational resources or smaller alumni networks can sometimes be extremely beneficial for founders. Get enough smart people in a room for months at a time, and sparks will fly, connections will be made, and the community will begin to share resources and utilize ‘weak tie networks.’ But with only four months to get this alchemy right, it’s important to facilitate shared experiences from the very beginning.
So the Dreamit team started with the question: how can we better cultivate the community building aspect of Dreamit?
Over the past year, Dreamit has redesigned its approach to facilitating the growth of companies, and a key part of that redesign is speeding up the formation of bonds between founders, the Dreamit team, and mentors in the Dreamit network. As 25 new companies prepared to join Dreamit for a four-month acceleration process, we formulated a plan to catalyze authentic bonding, to let founders unplug (mostly) from technology, to allow them engage with each other outside the strictures of more traditional, time-constrained events — Destination Dreamit.
We created Destination Dreamit to serve as an immersive experience for founders to come together, build lasting relationships, and build a support base for their time at Dreamit and beyond. Destination Dreamit is a three-day event in which new members of the Dreamit accelerator take part in team building activities, panels, breakout sessions, and, in the most recent case, mechanical bull riding. After Destination Dreamit, the teams move immediately into customer immersions.
Key Tenets of Destination Dreamit
Get founders out of their comfort zone. A dude ranch in rural Pennsylvania seemed as good a place as any to accomplish this.
Provide countless ways to engage with other members of the cohort, alumni, venture capitalists, and other professionals that provide services essential to startup founders.
Provide educational programming focused on actionable insights. Allow founders to learn from the experiences of people who have failed and succeeded in starting companies.
Destination Dreamit was a resounding success for everyone involved. The experience brought our founders together in a way that a day of ice breakers in our office never could have accomplished. Upon leaving Destination Dreamit, Richard Palarea, CEO of Dreamit Health company Kermit, stated —
Beyond the investment we hope to secure at the end of the program, we witnessed a community; a family. Dreamit alumni companies were at the retreat and Dreamit has created a strong commitment to founders helping founders. There have been some great success stories out of the early Dreamit groups running multi-million dollar per year businesses and even these founders are still involved in the community. I look forward to being a part of that.
Now, the 25 startups currently in our accelerator are participating in the next step in the revised Dreamit program — two weeks of customer immersions. Stay tuned to Dreamit Perspectives to hear about these immersions and other startup lessons by founders of Dreamit companies.