What do startup incubators do?

Written by
Anna King

Updated 28th May 2019

It’s a confusing world out there in the realm of startup support, and the term ‘incubator’ can get lost among the myriad other professional programmes and services on offer. This is a shame, because incubator programmes really can make all the difference in the early stages of a startup’s existence.

Startup Incubator

So, if you’re unsure about what a startup incubator actually is (and what it does), here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know:

What are startup incubators?

A startup incubator typically offers a programme of resources and services designed to help fledgeling businesses find their feet. There’s usually no set structure or timescale to the service the incubator offers, as early-stage startups can vary considerably in their needs. Ultimately, the incubator aims to nurture startups to a point at which their vision becomes clearer, their MVP is beginning to take shape, and they can see their way towards becoming a viable business.

There are many different kinds of startup incubator out there, and their methods vary a lot. Some operate out of a centralised space (many co-working spaces offer incubator-style services, for example), while others work with clients online. Some veer towards funding, while others focus more heavily on mentoring. Some are industry-specific, while others work with a more generalised clientele. They definitely aren’t ‘one size fits all’.

Early stage startup

What do startup incubators provide?

The services and resources offered by startup incubators differ a lot from programme to programme and startup to startup. Most incubators will tailor what they provide closely to what the individual startup requires. However, some common incubator services/resources include:

  • Seed funding
  • Mentoring
  • Networking opportunities
  • Training
  • Business advice
  • Access to investors
  • Legal advice
  • Workspace provision

How is an incubator different from an accelerator?

The terms ‘incubator’ and ‘accelerator’ are often used in conjunction with one another, and there is some confusion about the difference between the two. And in fairness, there is some overlap between incubator and accelerator programmes. Both offer resources, services, and seed funding to aid a startup’s growth and development. The difference is that incubators tend to nurture while accelerators tend to push.

Networking opportunities

As the names suggest, incubator programmes are for early-stage startups which are still developing their MVP and business model, while accelerator programmes are for startups a little further along the line which are looking to accelerate their growth and scale up. Think of incubator programmes as like a startup nursery, getting startups fit, healthy, and co-ordinated enough to survive the next stages. Accelerators are more like schools, preparing startups up to enter the real-world marketplace.

Could you benefit from an incubator programme?

Almost every startup could benefit from a bit of extra advice – not to mention funding! But whether or not you need a full incubator programme depends a lot on where you are with your development. If you’ve only just started mulling over a business idea, it’s probably worth devoting a bit more time to getting something solid together before you begin pitching to incubators. Whereas if you’re nearly market-ready, it’s probably an accelerator programme that you’re looking for. However, if your idea is coming together but you’re not really ready to emerge from the starting blocks yet, the support of an incubator could be just what you need.


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