Scotland’s Incubation Landscape

A business incubator is commonly defined as an organisation, public or private, that is set up to accelerate the growth and success of innovative or entrepreneurial businesses. Offering support across a whole range of areas such as premises, funding, coaching and networking, more and more incubation centres are popping up across the UK.

In Scotland, there are lots of organisations saying that they are running business incubators. But the big questions in the minds of many entrepreneurs and innovators are “What exactly is an incubator; how does it differ from an Accelerator or Innovation Centre and which types of companies/SMEs does it suit?” In this article, we’ll aim to demystify the whole notion of incubation and what it might mean to your business.

What does incubation provide entrepreneurs or innovators?

In our minds, incubation is all about:

  • Nurturing the business through the early years
  • Helping it start making informed decisions
  • Providing intelligence to help the company select the right sectors/markets on which to focus their business
  • Helping identify funding channels and secure investment to ensure the business has the right funding to help it grow
  • Developing connections with partners, clients, suppliers and influencers
  • Providing support to help grow the team and identify wider support infrastructure opportunities
  • Working with the company to develop a robust business model that incorporates the commercialisation elements – marketing, sales and business management tools

Incubation can either be virtual (like the Alba Incubation Service) or physical (Hillington Park Innovation Centres or Alba Innovation Centre)

Incubation: an essential part of the innovation process in Scotland

Scotland has a range of Accelerator programmes such as Espark and UP who play a very important part in the business development process as they help start-up companies develop their initial concepts and shape their initial ideas. Scotland also has public sector contracts such as Digital Enterprise Glasgow that provide knowledge about public sector support programmes that can help grow your early stage start-up business. But the real issue for many innovators and entrepreneurs is where do they go when they leave these accelerators and start-up programmes?

The answer to this is incubation. Business incubators play a critical role following on from these very early stage sources of advice and support.  Incubation is aimed at companies that are at a slightly more mature stage and have earned the title of an SME. They normally have an established product or service for example, as well as a working understanding of where that product or service fits into the market. They are also likely to have their initial funding in place (most commonly coming from family and friends). They’ll typically have 1 or 2 people in their team and will be ripe for the right sort of support to take them to the next stage in their development. This is where incubation really comes into its own.

How we at ICS’s define an incubator

At Innovation Centres Scotland, we believe the definition of an incubator to be:

The development of a community of like-minded, early stage businesses who are given a platform to meet, share ideas and communicate. To incubate and grow, these businesses are provided with a series of commercialisation support products.  These support products help them test that their product or service has a market as well as find the right funding and investment to help the business grow and to deploy the right team and start the sales cycle for their product or service”.

How to choose between an innovation centre and an incubation centre

Scotland has a vast wealth of innovation centres. Universities are now one of the largest providers of innovation centres. University innovation centres are are normally spin-outs from the university and are heavily linked to the University for their research. Other innovation centres such as the Alba and Hillington Park Innovation Centres have a sectoral focus on technology and provide accommodation and incubation support to help nurture, develop and grow these businesses within their own community of entrepreneurs. These innovation centres have flexible packages that allow the companies to develop from incubation stage to growth.

When you are deciding where you should go for help for your business, you need to look carefully at where your business is right now. Here are some guidelines that will help you decide where to head next:

  • If you’re a start-up who needs support developing your idea and defining your market, you should consider an accelerator.
  • If you’re an early stage growth business that already has your idea and know your market but need support to grow, you should consider an incubator.
  • If your company is a few years into your business and need a flexible package to help you through the early growth years, you should consider an innovation centre.

About the Author

Want to chat? Why not get in touch annaanna, link me at or follow me on twitter @anna_mtaylor.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the different support options for Scottish tech business start-ups, why not REGISTER TODAY FOR A FREE CONSULTATION by emailing  We have a team of Commercialisation Advisers ready and waiting to help you make sure your tech start-up gets all the incubation support it deserves.

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