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Accelerator or incubator? Deciding which one is best for your social enterprise

Accelerator or incubator? Deciding which one is best for your social enterprise

Article · By Kerry Needs on November 29, 2016


Accelerators and Incubators are both pretty new terms in the world of business. Whilst they have some similarities,  they are usually used for businesses at different stages of a startup to help them reach their goals and grow successfully.

So what would be the benefits for your social enterprise to use an startup accelerator or a startup incubator?

Firstly, they both provide access to a wider business community and networks; which are invaluable when you’re wanting to change the world. Secondly, they both also provide access to capital; which is usually a major consideration when starting a social venture.

Both methods have strengths and weaknesses; and it’s important to carefully research each one so you choose the right direction for your enterprise. Let’s have a look at the ways these support services differ.



Accelerators are centered around guidance, and you usually have a set timeframe in which to work to; you’ll be gaining support from a period of around three to eight months.

You’ll work with a group of mentors, and at the end of the ‘acceleration period’, your business will ‘graduate’.

Accelerators are aimed at helping a start up do two years worth of business in a few short months, rapidly growing the business with the help of a team of experts, who share their knowledge, time, and contacts.

Although you usually get investment for an accelerator, the costs are fixed due to a short time period. The maximum amount an accelerator would usually receive is in the region of 20k. The accelerator mentors then take an equity stake in your business (usually in the region of 5-6%).

This enables the business to grow quickly, so at the end of the acceleration you could potentially secure additional funding. Famous examples of companies that came out of an accelerator are Dropbox and Airbnb.



An Incubator is often used for when you’re earlier on in business, the very early stages of your startup journey. According to the National Business Incubator Association (NBIA), an incubator is "a business support process that accelerates the successful development of startup and fledgling companies by providing entrepreneurs with an array of targeted resources and services.

An incubator will provide your business that much needed all round support to grow your business over a longer period of time. It involves minimal costs and little to no equity as the goal is to grow the business, rather than to increase revenues at this early stage.

Many universities have incubator programmes, which can involve a shared space in a co-working hub, access to resources, and the local community.

It is different from an accelerator in the sense it usually involves fixing your business in one central workspace, and with many other startup enterprises, which can be of great benefit. Idealab is a good example of business that came from an incubator.


Which one is right for you?

Whether you need quick acceleration, a short term or longer term incubator, there’s a whole host of programs out there for your social enterprise. Both accelerators and incubators have their pros and cons. They both have challenges of perhaps losing some control of the business, the challenges of mentors, and being able to grow at your own pace.

However, they both also have access to a great network of contacts, and funding should you need it. If you need help getting your enterprise off the ground, or need some mentoring to scale your growth to the next level, then an incubator or accelerator may be right up your street.

We offer access to a wide range of mentors; why not have a browse to see if the right person is out there?

Article by:

Kerry Needs
on November 29, 2016

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