How We Won $50,000 in SBA Growth Accelerator Fund Contest

Opinion

Recently, the student accelerator program mystartupXX, a joint program of UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management and the Jacobs School of Engineering, won a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration as a Growth Accelerator Fund Competition winner. We were one of 68 winners announced Aug. 31 in the nationwide contest.

This was the third year in a row that mystartupXX has received this award.

As the program director, I was thrilled and honored. It also got me thinking about what was important for winning this competition. I realized that other organizations could benefit from what I’ve learned in this process. So here are a few tips I’d like to share:

First, to win an award, you must be willing to participate and apply. The mystartupXX accelerator is focused on providing mentorship, education, and funding to female-led technology-based startups at UC San Diego. The Growth Accelerator Fund competition is for organizations that help startups grow, become commercially viable, and have an economic impact. When I came across this competition, it seemed like our program could be eligible, so I went ahead and applied. Taking that chance was a great decision for the program—we were able to expand and grow because of the award.

Next, demonstrate your success. When the mystartupXX accelerator started in 2012, we had a very small class of startups in the program. One student in that first group, Rady alum Ashley Van Zeeland, launched the life science startup Cypher Genomics in the accelerator and later developed it into a very successful business. Last year, the company was acquired by Human Longevity, where she is currently the chief technology officer. Her success, and the success of the other startups in the program, garnered attention and interest about the program.

We received more applications to be part of the accelerator and in turn, more successful startups were developed in mystartupXX. Now, the mystartupXX accelerator has supported 26 female-led startups, which have raised more than $8 million in funding. The subsequent times we applied for the SBA award, we were able to show how the program had grown and that it is on a successful trajectory. I believe this was instrumental in repeatedly getting the SBA award.

Finally, don’t be intimidated if your program is new and does not have an extensive track record, or if participating in competitions is not your specialty. When we applied for the first time three years ago, we had just graduated the first cohort of participants and we were still trying to find the most useful program content. Yet, I was willing to apply for the SBA competition because I believe deeply in the work we were doing at mystartupXX. It has been wonderful to play a role in helping female-led startups flourish. As the program has grown, we’ve developed a strong track record, connected to many mentors who worked with the startup companies and the local startup community.

Because I took a few steps out of my comfort zone and applied for the SBA award, the mystartupXX accelerator has grown exponentially. Taking those first steps may not always be easy, but participating in competitions is well worth the time investment.

Lada Rasochova is executive director of the California Institute for Innovation and Development, managing director of the Rady Venture Fund, and founding director of the Triton Innovation Challenge at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management. She also is founding director of the student accelerators StartR and mystartupXX. Follow @

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