How Do Accelerators Work without Density?

Today I had a great conversation with a local venture capitalist. We mainly discussed opportunities to improve the Atlanta startup ecosystem. The subject of accelerators came up. Atlanta has a few accelerators that play an important role. They provide education, mentorship, and introductions that help fill entrepreneurs’ gaps (in knowledge, relationships, and capital). They also foster community and camaraderie by connecting entrepreneurs who otherwise wouldn’t know each other. Working in close proximity to peers in co-working spaces is a big part of the accelerator playbook.

The venture capitalist pointed out that accelerators as we know them have an uncertain future, which could affect the ecosystem. Working in close proximity now is risky because of COVID-19. If that risk isn’t eliminated, what will that mean for accelerators? Virtual communication is a good alternative, but it doesn’t give entrepreneurs the chance to build the bonds that develop when you’re working side by side. Other serendipitous interactions are also limited. If accelerators can’t operate in dense spaces, their ability to accelerate entrepreneurs’ success will be limited. If fewer entrepreneurs are successful, the momentum of the overall ecosystem could slow.

I’d thought about this before but hearing it from a venture capitalist highlighted the importance of accelerators. I don’t have an answer to this problem, but I’m starting to think about it more. How do you accelerate entrepreneurs’ success if physical interaction is limited and the accelerator model is less effective? How can you fill their knowledge, relationship, and capital gaps?

Like I said, I don’t know the answer to these questions. But I’d love to hear other people’s ideas about them.