Incubation vs. Acceleration Programmes

As a tech innovator in Scotland you’re likely to be sniffing out all the support you can get to help you launch your business, get it to market and, or help it grow. With a host of different support systems on offer, it can be tough to work out exactly who does what and which option might be most appropriate for you. One area of confusion that tech innovators often struggle with is the difference between an incubation programme and an acceleration programme.

In this article, I want to share with you some of the key differences between the two as well as help you decide which might offer the right solution for your unique business situation. Although incubator and accelerator programmes have common elements, for example, they both help companies grow by providing support and guidance, this help and support is provided in different ways and at different stages by each programme, which is what I will concentrate on in this post.

The difference between incubators and accelerators at a glance

In a nutshell, acceleration is a short-term process for tech innovators that have a product or service that can be market-ready quickly. Incubators on the other hand usually offer longer-term help for tech-based companies, lasting anywhere between 3 to 5 years. With an accelerator, there’s normally an intense, fixed programme that’s growth focused, whereas incubators offer a broader range of support and are more ad-hoc, adopting the most appropriate style of help as the company moves forward.

Incubator Programmes in more detail

The definition of an incubator programme used by the National Business Incubator Association (NBIA) 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. These services are usually developed or orchestrated by incubator management and offered both in the business incubator and through its network of contacts.


In other words, start up incubator programmes are set to help increase the chances of success open to a new business.  Typically offering advice and support, incubator programmes also often involve the offer of office space from which innovators can run their businesses in the early stages.  What this means is that any tech innovator can significantly increase the likelihood of success of their business both in the short, medium and longer term by getting involved in an incubator programme.

A great way of giving a tech innovator a leg up by offering support, networking opportunities and physical space, as the name suggests, incubator programmes are intended to get fledgling start ups to the point where they can stand on their own two feet.  Incubation can either be virtual, like the Alba Incubation Service or physical like the facilities provided at Hillington Park Innovation Centre or the Alba Innovation Centre.

Accelerator Programmes in more detail

As I’ve already mentioned, in effect, the purpose of an accelerator programme isn’t all that different to an incubator programme but it tends to focus more on growing a business that has already found its place in the market.  Some accelerator programmes may involve some form of investment in the company.  It mightn’t be that actual money changes hands, but it could be that an accelerator programme offers key team members for example in return for a share in the company.  As a result, certain accelerator programmes are more hands-on than the majority of incubator programmes, so this is worth looking out for if you are thinking of going this route.

What’s more, not lasting as long as an incubator programme, typically being only a few weeks to a few months in duration, an accelerator programme is most useful to a company when it is getting more established and preparing for future growth.

So how do you choose between the two?

The best place to start is to look at what stage your business is in the business cycle. If you are at a stage whereby you need help to get your business off the ground and get momentum going, yet want to retain control of your business, then an incubator programme is likely to be the best choice for you. On the other hand, if you are preparing for growth; particularly rapid growth or scaling, then an accelerator programme is more likely to fit the bill.

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If you’re a Scottish tech innovation start up keen to  explore what either an incubation or acceleration  programme might bring to your business, why not  REGISTER TODAY FOR A FREE  CONSULTATION by emailing   ICS Ltd has a team of Commercialisation Advisers ready and waiting to help you make sure your tech start-up gets all the support it deserves.

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