Startup funding has suffered various revolutions over the past few years, what with crowdfunding, tax breaks and alternative finance in all its forms. The emergence of accelerators and incubators over recent years has led to great change in the industry. A whole host of famous names have been powered during their early stages; for example, Airbnb, Dropbox, Disqus and Reddit all cycled through the Y Combinator scheme. But is your business ready for acceleration, or are you already cruising in the fast lane?
What’s the difference between an incubator and an accelerator?
An incubator is basically a co-working space where, in most cases, the startups are all funded by the same investor group. Startups move on when they want to or need to, because they’ve outgrown the space.
In an accelerator, the time in the space is typically limited to three to four months. That short period of time is designed to kick-start your business, and then you can hit the open road on your own. Investment is typically minimal, but many startups rely on attracting venture capital from a third party when they graduate.
Should you be thinking of applying?
It really depends on whether you want to be told what to do. If you have utter confidence in your business model, revenue streams and fundraising skills, and your startup is progressing healthily, without any outside help, then this would probably just be a distraction. But if you’re a first-timer, you think your model could do with some fine tuning or you want to make some contacts, this could be a good path for your business.
The plus points?
There are of course lots of benefits to getting on one of these schemes. You can share what you learn with other startups and use their experience as a learning tool. Mentorship can really give direction to your business, and provide personal validation. In more concrete terms, this could be a good way to gain money for a particular project or sustained investment once you’ve left the scheme. Accelerators and incubators thrive on their successes. If your startup does well, your story be a key part of their PR strategy.
The minus points?
Belonging to one of these schemes can eat into the most precious of your resources: time. Meetings with mentors, events with investors and general startup chitchat can stop you from simply getting on with it. It’s even harder when you are trying to weigh up the conflicting advice you may receive from different mentors with different bugbears. But the ability to filter out the useful advice from the less useful is a vital skill wherever you are.
Interesting schemes out there:
Entrepreneur First: Thought you needed an idea to be an entrepreneur? Well, this scheme takes the best computer scientists and engineers straight out of university and helps them build world-class tech startups. All in the confines of Club Workspace London Bridge. Since 2012, Entrepreneur First has taken on 60 individuals, who have built 20 startups now worth over $80million. Check them out.
Wayra UK: Initially launched in 2011 in Latin America and Spain to nurture the best technology ideas and talent, this accelerator scheme, backed by the telecommunications company Telefónica, is home to lots of startups you will have heard of.
OrangeFab: Orange's accelerator scheme is supported by some of the biggest names in business, including Visa, Hilton, Fnac, and LG Electronics. A diverse group which promises some interesting developments! Sadly, it’s only US based at the moment.
Climate-KIC: The Climate-KIC accelerator focuses on businesses that are climate-related. You just need the idea. They’ve helped startups involved with smart bins, water purification, eco bicycle helmets, hydrogen storage facilities... The list goes on.
Supermarket sweep: Tesco and John Lewis have both got into the accelerator game. The nation’s favourite department store has set up JLab while TescoLabs have set up shop in the Rainmaking Loft.
Others to look out for include the first accelerator programme ever established in the UK, Seedcamp, as well as Collider and Cambridge-based Springboard.