Code For America’s Accelerator: Disruption As Public Service

This post was originally published by Women 2.0.

The learning curve for a startup founder is very steep. So steep that if you don’t approach it at the appropriate speed and angle, it can feel a lot like kissing bricks at 50mph. In my experience, this is where business accelerator programs come in. They can give you speed and they can give you direction. You just have to know what you need.

I got into both the tech startup and emergency management worlds quite by accident, in the wake of a tornado in my hometown. Having previously studied an unrelated field (cough, Soviet Russia), there was a significant amount of “getting up to speed” involved. Complicating matters, our market for “community powered disaster recovery tools” was firmly lodged in the still-developing civic technology space.

We applied for the Code for America Accelerator program for very specific reasons.

Speed wasn’t our problem at the time – a slot on and a few other well-placed publications had launched us into the international disaster management limelight.

A lot of the time I felt like I was smiling largely because G-Force was smooshing my cheeks back. Our problem at the time was angle of approach. How, oh how, does one sell the concept of “startup” to cities accustomed to enterprise platforms?

I remember seeing an ad for Code for America’s Accelerator that talked about teaching startups how to scale civic tech products. Of course I applied. What’s more, I actually listened. More astonishingly, I actually brought CfA’s advisors into the hearts of the problems we were dealing with.

Most surprisingly, their help made a difference in the direction we’ve taken the company since arriving in San Francisco. We were even able to hire graduating CFA Fellow Emily Wright as our Design Director, making our staff 3/5 ladies.

There’s more to accelerator programs than just getting handed a pair of sparkly tights, front-loaded into a rocket launcher and fired at the moon. There’s exploration, and support, and a network to help you grow in the directions you need most help with.

It’s up to you to choose an accelerator that will fire you in the right direction.

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