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The Imposter Syndrome: how to #DoTheThing and banish the feelings that you aren’t ready to join an accelerator.

By Melissa Sassi posted Wed July 31, 2019 06:59 AM


What is the Imposter Syndrome?

"Oh, that good thing that happened? That was just dumb luck. I was in the right place at the right time.” How many of you have felt this way? I certainly have felt this way in my life. This, my friend, is Imposter Syndrome. According to Scientific American, "the Impostor Syndrome is a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It strikes smart, successful individuals”.

“I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.” - Neil Armstrong, first person on the moon

Did you know that Imposter Syndrome impacts roughly 70% of people globally at some point in their lives. It’s often reflected upon as a female challenge; however, contrary to popular belief, it also impacts men. That said, the way men handle it is different than the way women handle it.

Partnership with Female Founders Alliance

On June 16th, the IBM LinuxONE team sponsored an Imposter Syndrome event with the Female Founders Alliance where I collaborated with Leslie Feinzaig, Founder and CEO of Female Founders Alliance, and Dona Sarker, Chief #Ninjacat and Head of the Windows Insiders program. Wow…Dona manages a community of 16M people and still imposters?

Watch the video of the talk Dona and I gave with FFA here! Still kicking myself that the connectivity in North Africa did not allow me to get into the meeting on time! I felt like such a fraud!

We showcased how Imposter Syndrome gives us self-doubt, highlighted how it is a real thing, and demonstrated its impacts on our professional lives. We told stories of our personal impostering and concluded the talk by sharing a ten-point plan for banishing those pesky internal doubts. You’ll find the 10 points covered later in this blog!

My personal experiences in life inspired me to become passionate about digital inclusion and technology entrepreneurship, which led to creating my own digital inclusion movement. Dona’s passion started with scribbling dress designs and high-end fashionista magic to creating her own fashion line. She combined her software development skills, public speaking and writing chops, and her software development skills to create her own fashion startup with ecommerce solution.

Dona and I imposter all the time. She works at Microsoft and I work at IBM. We both have our side shimmies that help us to empower the world via our ideas. By using the ten-point plan, we have learned how to push those impostering thoughts right out of our heads and move on.

How many of you are convinced that there was a mistake in the system and you got to where you are by accident. By accident?! Come on, be honest! That is a pretty bad system if they let all successful people in by accident. Many successful people feel this way…some feel this way ALL the time!

With the launch of the new IBM Z and LinuxONE Community ( I thought I could take this opportunity to write a blog post about the Imposter Syndrome. I also thought this could be a great opportunity to encourage early-stage founders to apply to the program I run globally at IBM.

I often speak with entrepreneurs about readiness. It is a common theme for early-stage founders to express concerns over readiness, especially those with stable day jobs or people who do not yet realize that they are in fact entrepreneurs. Are they ready to launch their business? Are they really entrepreneurs? What if they fail? Will they succeed? What if they don’t know everything? What if they do not have access to all the skillsets required? Worst yet... what if they are really impostering and don’t deserve a seat at the table?

IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator

IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator powered by LinuxONE is an IBM program that ladders up to Startup with IBM. The program focuses on early-stage fintech and healthtech startups that collect, store, and transmit high levels of sensitive information – personally identifiable information (PII).

In my career, I have encountered scores of early-stage entrepreneurs who believed they were not yet ready to apply for accelerator or incubator programs. I often believe these thoughts around readiness are due to the Imposter Syndrome. What?! They think they are not ready despite many of them being geared toward early-stage founders!

IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator Application Criteria

  • less than $1M in revenue,
  • less than five years old,
  • startups with fintech or healthtech solutions dealing with high levels of sensitive data,
  • working website with matching email address, and
  • commitment to check out IBM Cloud Hyper Protect Services.

It is important to note that we are not taking an equity stake and do not require the startup to pay a participation fee.

Benefits of IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator

  • Cloud credits worth up to $120,000 per startup,
  • 5-day mini-accelerator in Charlotte, North Carolina USA (travel grants available),
  • 1 year of virtual business mentorship,
  • 2 years of virtual technical mentorship,
  • go-to-market support,
  • co-marketing collaboration, and
  • access to our network of customers, partners, stakeholders, and venture capital network.

Key Dates to Remember

  • June 12th: applications open
  • August 15th: application process closes
  • September: 15-startup cohort announced
  • October – November: Social campaign highlighting our selected cohort
  • Week of November 18th– in-person, 5-day accelerator and demo day in Charlotte, NC, USA
  • December – Ongoing: 1x1 virtual mentorship begins
  • Ongoing: Go-to-market partnership
  • Ongoing: Co-marketing support (ongoing)

Read our original blog post from June 12, 2019 to learn more about the program and IBM Cloud Hyper Protect Services, which is geared toward protecting sensitive information such as medical records, financial data, and other personally identifiable information. If you are collecting, transmitting, and/or storing such data, this accelerator is for you!

I would like to close this blog post to encourage you to banish the thoughts from your head that you are an imposter.

10-Step plan for Banishing the Imposter Syndrome

  1. What do you feel unqualified to do? Is that imaginary or reality? Trust your gut and do not let your imaginary feelings define reality for you.
  2. What will you lose out on if you do not #DoTheThing? Who will be better off if you do not #DoTheThing?
  3. What will other people lose out on if you do not #DoTheThing? Will they be better off if you do not #DoTheThing?
  4. Break it down. Which specific parts are you qualified to do? Who is qualified to do what you are not?
  5. Do a small experiment to learn from experts. Take down a list of three experts who can help you. Contact them in bite-sized bits.
    1. Hi ______________________________________________________________________.
    2. I so admire the way you _____________________________________________________.
    3. I am doing a little experiment to learn more about it by _____________________________.
    4. I have a question for you. How do you go about ___________________________________.
  6. Don’t compare. Compliment. Elevate powerful people. You are not going to be an expert at everything. Gather your tribe of experts, compliment them, and elevate them. It comes back tenfold.
  7. What advice would you give to a friend? Write it down. #DoTheThing.
  8. Gather your imposter squad. Text often. Empower one another to #DoTheThing.
  9. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Either way, you are doing great. Document both your successes and your failures. Learn from your failures.
  10. #DoTheThing! You got this! Your tribe of imposters are with you!

I hope you have learned a lot from this blog post, no longer see yourself as an imposter, and feel the extra boost of confidence to apply to the right accelerator program for you. I also hope you decide that you belong in the IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator Class of 2019 and apply now!

Apply to IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator here.