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Entrepreneurs often find themselves seeking ways to kickstart their ventures, secure funding, and achieve sustainable growth. 

Two avenues that have become popular in recent years are business incubators and accelerators. In this guide for UK businesses, we'll consider what they are, what they do, and how they can benefit your startup.

What are business incubators?

Business incubators are nurturing grounds for startups. They are supportive environments designed to foster the growth and development of early-stage startups. Think of them as nurturing grounds. Startups receive various forms of assistance to help them navigate the challenges of the business world. 

Incubators typically offer shared office spaces, mentorship programs, and access to a network of professionals. They also potentially offer access to angel investors to help you get your business idea started. In exchange, the business incubator may ask for an equity stake in your business, as they seek a return on their investment.

If you're someone looking for slow and steady growth as you organise your business idea, and you want to get a firm footing as you get it off the ground, an incubator could be the right choice.

What are business accelerators?

Business accelerators are about fast-tracking success. They propel startups to achieve rapid growth within a set timeframe. Unlike incubators, accelerators operate on a more structured schedule, often lasting several months or longer. 

Startups admitted to accelerator programs receive intensive mentoring, networking opportunities, and, in many cases, seed funding in exchange for equity. The goal is to accelerate the startup's growth, preparing them for investment or further expansion.

There are a range of accelerators available in the UK from private and corporate schemes through to government schemes. Some are more general in their approach, whereas others are more specialised in a particular sector or industry. If you have a clear concept for your startup, and you’re ready to move quickly, an accelerator could be for you.

What do accelerators and incubators do?

Both accelerators and incubators work to support business startups, in different ways. As we mentioned, accelerators focus on speeding up a startup's growth trajectory. They provide a concentrated burst of support.

The emphasis is on refining business models, validating ideas, and preparing for investment pitches. Accelerators often end with a demo day. This is where startups showcase their progress to potential venture capitalists or other types of investors.

An incubator program takes a more holistic approach, providing a supportive environment for startups to develop more slowly. The support may include access to office space, mentorship programmes and networking opportunities. Whilst these can sound similar, the approach and timeline is very different.

Incubators aim to create a conducive atmosphere for startups to thrive. They offer support in various ways, like product development, marketing strategies, and business operations. They allow early-stage companies to gain access to everything they need to commit to their business idea. It encourages them to fully consider things like product market fit or marketing strategies, before they take the plunge.

What are the different types of accelerators?

There are different types of accelerator programs, run by different groups and for different businesses to take advantage of.

Vertical accelerators

Vertical accelerators specialise in a specific industry or sector. For instance, there are accelerators dedicated to fintech, healthtech, or cleantech. These programs bring together startups working on similar challenges, providing tailored mentorship and networking opportunities within a specific niche. For tech startups or startup founders in specific industries, a vertical accelerator will allow them to benefit from expert knowledge from those who understand their products or services.

Corporate accelerators

Established companies sometimes run or promote corporate accelerators. These programs allow corporations to engage with innovative startups. The focus is on fostering collaboration and providing startups with access to expertise of the sponsoring organisation. Working with a company you respect, who align with the values and can provide expert insight to your market can be a huge win for your business.

Regional and government accelerators

Some accelerators operate at a regional or national level, often with the support of government initiatives. These programs aim to boost economic development by supporting local startups and fostering innovation within a particular geographic area. 

These programs are sometimes launched to support deprived local areas, but they can be set up for other reasons, like encouraging the growth of certain industries in 

What are the different types of incubators?

University-based incubators

Many universities have incubators designed to support startups emerging from their academic community. These incubators often provide access to research facilities, mentorship from professors, and connections to industry experts. These incubators are often available to current and ex students of the university, to support entrepreneurship.

Corporate incubators

Corporate incubators are run or sponsored by established large companies. They provide startups with resources, mentorship, and access to the corporate network. Their focus is on fostering innovation that aligns with the sponsoring company's goals. Being chosen by a large branded company can be an impressive element when it comes to looking for funding, as well as the other advantages of taking part in a well run corporate incubator.

Independent incubators

Independent incubators operate without direct ties to universities or corporations. They are standalone entities that offer a range of support services. These may be run by business professionals who want to share their knowledge.

What's right for my startup?

Choosing between an accelerator and an incubator depends on your startup's specific needs and stage of development. If your business is in its infancy, and you feel you need foundational support, an incubator may be the right choice. On the other hand, if your startup is poised for rapid growth, an accelerator might be the better fit.

It’s also important to consider your best way of growing and learning as a founder - are you someone who benefits from support and long term growth, or do you need the speed and high pressure of an accelerator programme? 

How do I access accelerators and incubators?

Joining an accelerator program typically involves a competitive application process. Start by researching and identifying accelerators aligned with your industry or business focus. Prepare a compelling application that outlines your business model, team, and growth potential. 

If accepted, be prepared to commit fully to the program, actively engaging with mentors and fellow participants. View it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to speed towards your goals with complete support.

Incubators often have a more accessible entry process compared to accelerators. Research local incubators, both university-based and independent, that align with your business goals. Reach out to them, expressing your interest and demonstrating how your startup could benefit from their support. 

The application process may involve interviews or pitch sessions, so be prepared to articulate your business vision effectively. Knowing exactly what you’re offering and why has a huge impact on your ability to sell yourself and your company.

What else do I need to know?

When it comes to startups, funding and growth are two key considerations. The journey for startups can’t just be about survival - it needs to focus on thriving and growing.

If you are aware that there are accelerator or incubator programmes open to you, and you know you can make the most of the opportunity, it’s worth trying. Being aware of funding opportunities provided by these programs can significantly impact your financial trajectory, and ensure you’re set on  a path to success.

Setting up a business as an entrepreneur can often be lonely, and these schemes offer not only mentorship but the chance to be surrounded by similarly driven, like-minded individuals. Whether it’s seed funding from an accelerator or long-term support from an incubator, these avenues can set your business up for sustainable growth.

Get legal assistance from LawBite

As you embark on this journey, it’s vital to have a trusted legal expert to hand. Contracts, intellectual property, and compliance matters are critical aspects of your business that require attention. Seek legal advice from experts who understand the unique challenges faced by startups and small businesses. 

If you think you need legal advice around funding or growing your startup, start by booking a free 15 minute consultation with one of our expert lawyers or by calling us on 020 3808 8314.


Additional resources

In closing

Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice on which you should rely. The article is provided for general information purposes only. Professional legal advice should always be sought before taking any action relating to or relying on the content of this article. Our Platform Terms of Use apply to this article.

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