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Incubator vs Accelerator: Which One is Right for Your Startup?

Choosing an incubator vs. an accelerator to boost your startup's growth? Explore the differences between these business catalysts to make the best decision.

Written by RamotionJul 20, 202310 min read

Last updated: Feb 9, 2024

Starting a business requires significant thought and decision-making, such as choosing between an incubator or an accelerator program.

Incubators offer a nurturing and supportive environment for businesses to mature with access to mentorship and office space. In contrast, accelerator programs can propel early-stage companies to the next level with financial support and potential exposure to investors. While both offer a wide range of benefits, their different characteristics and criteria can make or break a company’s future.

In this blog post, we will explore the differences between accelerators and incubators, examine their benefits, and provide actionable insights for young companies to decide which route is best for them.

Startup Accelerators

Startup accelerators are designed to offer early-stage companies support in their growth and development. Through mentorship, resources, and networking, these programs typically span a three to six-month period and can aid startups in scaling rapidly.

Being part of an accelerator can provide startups substantial benefits, such as access to knowledge and mentorship of successful entrepreneurs and industry experts. Mentors in the program offer insight and support to those in the early stages of launching their business, assisting with overcoming the obstacles existing companies usually face when trying to expand.

Secondly, accelerators offer networking opportunities, allowing startups to connect with other entrepreneurs, industry experts, and potential investors.

Most startups in the development stage seek to increase their awareness of the marketplace and build valuable connections. Accelerators allow us to achieve these objectives by providing access to office space, tutorials, knowledge materials, and seminars and linking startup founders with companies that offer branding services for startups.

Overall, accelerators suit startups with an established user base, paying customers, and some evidence of product market fit.

When determining if an accelerator is a good fit for your startup, consider the following factors:

Stage of Development

Assess whether your startup has achieved proof-of-concept and is ready to scale. Accelerators are ideal for early-stage existing companies that already have a minimum viable product.

Revenue and Funding Needs

Before joining an accelerator program, gaining insight into your funding needs and income streams is crucial. Doing so involves evaluating your financial documents, such as income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements.

Remember that most accelerators work with companies that have met a specific income requirement and attained steady sales within a certain timeframe.

Expansion Goals

Identify your expansion goals and whether a short-term collaboration to accelerate growth aligns with your objectives. Accelerators focus on rapid expansion, so if you are interested in slow but steady development and are not ready to keep the fast pace, joining an incubator may be a better idea.

Also, remember that accelerator programs often have a highly competitive application process due to the large number of applicants and limited available resources.

Therefore, before joining an accelerator program, you should be prepared to provide proof of your growth potential and explain why collaboration with your business will benefit the accelerator.

Startup Incubators

Business incubators are specialized initiatives tailored to support early-stage startups in developing their ideas into profitable products and services. Such programs facilitate a creative work environment where business founders can tap into the expertise of seasoned mentors, other entrepreneurs, and industry leaders.

Companies at the idea stage usually find business incubators more suitable than accelerators.

Although most business incubators focus primarily on mentorship, the available resources can differ depending on the program. For instance, some incubators provide access to coworking spaces, marketing support, and other necessary supplies besides valuable guidance.

Incubator programs generally come in the form of venture capital firms and non-profit development companies, and although they are mostly self-sufficient, most receive funding from government organizations and angel investors.

When it comes to the application process, business incubators tend to prioritize applicants with prior affiliations with them or those who possess objectives that align with the institution's mission. For example, educational establishments prioritize students, non-profit organizations prioritize startups that support community goals, and commercially driven incubators concentrate on fostering partnerships within their field.

Incubators offer numerous benefits to early-stage startups, including coworking spaces, learning material, and other resources, along with a conducive working environment that allows them to save money.

Incubators provide mentorship from industry leaders and experts, helping startups improve their business plans and navigate hurdles during the beginning stages.

Business incubators can help startups access loans with higher limits, often requiring recommendations from credible organizations.

Incubators offer business advice and aid such as legal advice, accounting support, marketing advice, and access to professional networks to assist startups in carrying out necessary operations and tasks.

Determine if an incubator is suitable for your startup

First, evaluate your business stage and determine if your startup would benefit from the support and resources provided by an incubator. Begin by scrutinizing their incubator process, mentorship structure, networking opportunities, and access to funding, as these are vital aspects that can significantly impact your startup's growth.

Next, research incubators that align with your specific industry and seek out those that offer tailored support and expertise relevant to your business ideas. Therefore, it is worth learning more about the incubator's terms and conditions during the interview process before joining.

Finally, consider the networking opportunities associated with the incubator, as networking opportunities provided by incubators can vary depending on the location.

For instance, an incubator program located in a metropolitan area will allow your startup to gain exposure and build meaningful connections in a vibrant and diversified environment, with various industry events, coworking spaces, conferences, startup communities, and workshops, where you have more chances of connecting with the potential investors.

Meanwhile, an incubator program is located in a smaller city. In that case, it will strengthen ties with business associations, chambers of commerce, local startups, and economic development entities to generate networking prospects in a more close-knit environment.

Comparing Accelerators vs. Incubators

Comparing incubator and accelerator programs, it is essential to remember that both provide substantial support to startups, including access to finances and mentorship. However, they have fundamental differences in their entry stage, funding sources, duration, program costs, location, and acceptance criteria. Understanding these distinctions can help startups determine which option aligns best with their needs and stage of development.

Let's examine the critical differences between accelerators and incubators to determine which is more suitable for your business.

Stage of Entry

Incubators focus on collaboration with seed-stage startups, offering help in substantiating ideas and devising sound business strategies.

Conversely, most accelerators focus on partnerships with more established companies with a based business model, a sound business plan, an existing market demand, and a minimum viable product in place.

Funding Sources

Most incubators receive support from academic institutions and government entities and rarely charge fees or take ownership stakes in the companies they assist. Accelerators, however, are commonly run by venture capitalist firms and financial entities with substantial investment capital, so they usually demand an equity stake in return for mentorship and financing.


Incubators allow entrepreneurs to nurture their ideas and convert them into fully functional business models over an unlimited period.

On the other hand, accelerator programs have a fixed duration, usually three to six months, to ensure rapid growth and scaling.

Program Costs

Accelerators commonly ask for a percentage of a company's equity in exchange for funding and support. This approach allows them to be vested in the success of the companies they assist. Incubators, in contrast, typically mentor startups free of charge. However, they may charge for office space or specific services like mentorship, access to specialized resources, or professional marketing services.


Most incubators require startups to be located in a specific geographic area to access their physical facilities and local network.

On the other hand, accelerators usually work with startups already in the growth stage and have an established physical location for their operations.

Acceptance Criteria

Incubator programs generally have more lenient acceptance criteria so that startup founders can skip a highly competitive application process. While incubators may have preferences for specific profiles, the focus is more on supporting a diverse range of startups.

Accelerator programs usually receive numerous applications from early-stage companies, so they are highly selective with their acceptance process. So, if presented with a choice between a younger company with progressive, revolutionary goals, and a more conservative firm with an established business model and a well-defined business idea, these programs tend to favor the latter.

Making a Choice between Accelerator and Incubator

When choosing between an accelerator program and a business incubator, startups should consider the following factors:

Stage of Development

As an early-stage startup founder, it's crucial to assess your company's current stage of development before making any final decisions.

If you find yourself in the business idea generation stage, consider opting for an incubator as an ideal platform to validate your ideas and refine your business model. Incubators offer valuable support and resources that can help fine-tune your business plan and generate more innovative ideas, which is particularly advantageous for most startups at this phase of their journey.

Conversely, an accelerator is an excellent option if you have built a minimum viable product and are looking for rapid growth and expansion. The general objective of accelerators is to help existing companies attract angel investors and achieve tangible results within a shorter period.

Focus and Expertise

When determining which accelerator or incubator program to choose, it is crucial to select one that meets the needs of your specific industry and aligns with your business model. You can benefit from the program's tailored mentorship, support, and resources by choosing a program that specializes in the same niche as your startup.

For example, if you own a healthcare tech enterprise, such as a telemedicine platform connecting patients with healthcare specialists remotely, you should pursue an accelerator or incubator program geared towards healthcare or health tech startups.

This can bring valuable mentorship from knowledgeable health professionals, strong connections with investors and experts, and access to essential resources such as regulatory guidance and clinical trial assistance.

Funding and Equity

Assessing each program's funding models and equity exchange stipulations is essential. Accelerators will likely require some form of equity for their funds and resources, while incubators could potentially supply the same level of assistance without such demands. Thus, it is worth considering the give-and-take between what equity is required and what kind of support is being given.

Time Commitment

Consider the duration of the program. Accelerator programs usually have a fixed timeframe of several months, while incubator programs may have a more flexible timeline. Assess if your startup is ready for an accelerator program's intensive, time-bound nature or if a longer-term incubator program aligns better with your goals.

Location and Resources

Consider the physical location and resources provided by the program. Evaluate if access to dedicated office space, coworking facilities, or specific resources is essential for your startup. Determine if relocation is required and if the program's location aligns with your business needs.

Here are some practical tips that can help you in the decision-making process:

Seek Recommendations and Advice

Seek recommendations from trusted industry peers, mentors, or investors who can provide insights into reputable accelerator or incubator programs. Their perspectives can help guide your decision-making process.

Consider Your Specific Needs

Identify your startup's needs, such as funding access, mentorship, coworking space, or industry connections. Prioritize the programs that can address these needs effectively.

If your business involves holding many in-person meetings with the team and potential clients, look for an accelerator or incubator that can provide office space. Access to a physical workspace can be highly beneficial for fostering collaboration, productivity, and community with colleagues, clients, and fellow entrepreneurs.

Evaluate Program Requirements

Before choosing an accelerator or incubator program, it is critical to closely examine the eligibility requirements, application process, and any associated costs. Ensure you fulfill all the conditions and can fully dedicate yourself to the program.

Accelerators usually demand founders to dedicate themselves full-time during the program's duration. This requires constant contact with the mentors and engagement in networking activities and workshops. When planning your schedule, guarantee that you can keep up with these demands to maximize the program's advantages.


Assessing your unique business needs and situation is crucial in determining whether to apply to an accelerator or an incubator. Consider factors such as your stage of development, funding requirements, industry alignment, time commitment, and the resources and network each program offers.

By carefully weighing these factors, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your startup's goals and maximizes your chances of success.

Regardless of your choice, it is essential to emphasize the importance of continuous learning in business. Seek opportunities to acquire new skills, expand your knowledge, and stay updated with industry trends.

Embrace the entrepreneurship journey as a continuous learning process, and leverage the resources and mentorship accelerators or incubators provide to fuel your growth.