This story first appeared in the CELA newsletter

The group of accelerator leaders at cela’s August gathering of accelerators from all over the world focused on sponsorships between accelerators and larger organizations. The discussion included (alphabetical by first name) Alex Waters, Director of the Connect All accelerator in San Diego, Charles Lorum, Executive Director at the Nordic Innovation HouseClark Smith Director of Innovation at the New Jersey Economic Development AuthorityD.K. Smith Chief Strategy Officer @ Brooklyn Innovation CenterJackie Trebilcock Managing Director @ the Fashion Tech Lab (now leading their 9th cohort!), Michael Maerlender of HearstLab for female founders, Nadim Zazaa of Nucleus Ventures running programs with Lebanon-American University, Nora Peterson of Halo Incubator for female founders, Shai Tamary Director @ NUMA, and more!

Quick Summary:

Sponsorships can be a robust and reliable source of revenue that add synergistically to an accelerator’s offerings to startups — but they are highly creative products that must be rigorously defined, closely managed to success.  Some high level things to know from the conversation:

  • The sales cycle from first conversation to close can be from 3-6 months (and sometimes much more).
    • So, if you feel like these take a lot of time — they do!  Take a long approach to developing the partnership and make sure it’s well defined and clear before engaging… even if the price is right.
  • Sponsorships can range from in-kind, to five figures, to millions.
    • What level of sponsorship you should aim for depends on the profile of your customer.
      • Likely only a large corporation or government organizations can participate at high levels.
      • Service providers, mature startups, universities, and foundations/non profits can be good sponsors in the 5-6 figure range.
  • The offering is the hardest part.
    • Be sure that there is a set amount of time that the partnership is active.
      • An easy mistake is to promise super-specific outcomes or resources, which can leave the relationship dangling once delivery is complete.
      • Introducing an end date or a specific duration can help keep everyone aligned and make renewal (or cancellation) an unambiguous process.
  • After-Care
    • This was a new term for many attendees, but one that is critical to ongoing, renewable partnerships/sponsorships.
    • After-care refers to have a clear timeline of, actions, contacts, meetings, transactions, and overall management that occur right when the partnership begins.
      • In the same way that there can be confusion or gaps once a sponsorship is completed, even if it is successful, this can happen right up front after signing.
        • Structure expectations for how the relationship will run day to day after signing, in addition to outcomes and deliverables.
          • e.g. How often will you meet after signing? When will certain important actions take place?  How often will you communicate on email or slack? Who will be the primary points of contact on each side?
      • This is particularly risky if you have a separate team carrying out the delivery portion than the team member or team that generated and closed it.

cela is a community of accelerator programs that have come together to make the startup ecosystem more accessible. cela also builds accelerator programs with universities, corporations, investor groups, and governments. The company’s goal is to provide a coordinated ecosystem of programs that any founder can easily navigate to find the right accelerator for them, at the right time.

Find an accelerator in their network here!

This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit and connect with and

A business journalist for 20 years, am the founder of Times of Entrepreneurship and the co-author of The New Builders.