Incubator vs accelerator - What's the difference?

Apr 23, 2024

When launching a startup, one of the key decisions you'll face is whether to join an incubator or an accelerator. Both offer valuable resources but serve different purposes in a business's growth trajectory. In this article, we will look into what sets each apart, explore their benefits, and help you determine which option best aligns with your startup's needs and goals.

What are Startup Accelerators?

Startup accelerators are intensive programs designed to boost the growth and development of early-stage companies. They provide mentorship, resources, and networking opportunities over a three to six-month period, helping startups scale rapidly.

Key Benefits of Accelerators

Access to Mentorship

Accelerators connect startups with successful entrepreneurs and industry experts who offer guidance and support, helping them navigate the challenges of rapid expansion.

Networking Opportunities

These programs facilitate connections with fellow entrepreneurs, industry leaders, and potential investors, creating a robust network essential for startup success.

Resources and Support

Startups gain access to office spaces, educational workshops, and branding services, which are crucial for increasing market presence and building valuable connections.

What are Startup Incubators?

Startup incubators are supportive programs tailored to nurture early-stage companies. They offer extensive mentorship, resources, and networking opportunities, focusing on gradual development and long-term success.

Key Benefits of Incubators

Access to Mentorship

Incubators provide startups with guidance from seasoned entrepreneurs and industry experts, helping them refine their business models and navigate early challenges.

Networking Opportunities

These programs offer connections to a wide network of business professionals, potential partners, and other entrepreneurs, which are crucial for foundational business growth.

Resources and Support

Startups in incubators benefit from shared workspaces, access to business tools, and marketing support, which are essential for developing a strong business foundation and enhancing their operational capabilities.

Comparing Accelerators vs. Incubators

When comparing incubator and accelerator programs, it's crucial to understand their substantial support for startups, including mentorship and financial access. Yet, they differ significantly in their stage of entry, funding sources, duration, program costs, location, and acceptance criteria. Understanding these differences can help startups choose the right program for their development stage and needs.

Critical Differences Between Accelerators and Incubators

Stage of Entry

  • Incubators: Collaborate with seed-stage startups to help substantiate ideas and develop business strategies.

  • Accelerators: Partner with more established companies that have a defined business model, market demand, and a minimum viable product.

Funding Sources

  • Incubators: Typically funded by academic institutions and government entities, they rarely charge fees or take equity stakes.

  • Accelerators: Often operated by venture capitalists or financial entities, requiring equity stakes in return for funding and mentorship.


  • Incubators: Provide a flexible timeline allowing startups to develop ideas into functional business models without a set end date.

  • Accelerators: Offer a fixed program length, usually three to six months, focusing on rapid growth and scaling.

Program Costs

  • Incubators: Generally offer free mentorship, though they may charge for office space or specific services.

  • Accelerators: Typically take a percentage of equity in exchange for funding and support, aligning their success with that of the startups.


  • Incubators: Often require startups to be located within a certain geographic area to leverage local resources and networks.

  • Accelerators: Usually serve growth-stage startups with an established physical presence and operations base.

Acceptance Criteria

  • Incubators: Have more flexible acceptance criteria, supporting a broader range of startups without a highly competitive application process.

  • Accelerators: Highly selective, favoring startups with progressive, scalable goals and a solid foundation over those that are less defined but potentially innovative.

Understanding these distinctions helps startups identify which type of program aligns best with their current needs and future goals, guiding them towards the right support system for their entrepreneurial journey.