The business incubator and accelerator ecosystem

Turning bright ideas into high-growth businesses

+ Key differences: What are the key differences between business incubators and accelerators?
+ Services overview: Overview of the key services each offer
+ For your application: How to optimise your application successfully.
Graphic of seminar at a business incubator

Incubators and Accelerators: Nurturing UK businesses

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A business incubator is an organisation that supports early-stage companies by offering a range of services, resources, and guidance. Their primary objective is to nurture the growth of start-ups, enabling them to flourish in today's competitive market. Incubators are instrumental in the UK's economic development, playing a vital role in fostering innovation and job creation.
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A business accelerator is a programme designed to propel the growth of existing start-ups by providing intensive support, mentorship, and resources within a fixed, short-term period. These programmes are typically industry-specific, catering to high-growth, high-potential companies that are eager to scale quickly. Accelerators play a significant role in the UK entrepreneurial ecosystem, contributing to innovation and economic development.
Incubators are innovation catalysts, helping transform raw ideas into viable businesses. They offer a supportive environment that enables start-ups to navigate the challenges of entrepreneurship, ultimately leading to increased survival rates and business growth.
Accelerators serve as catalysts for the rapid growth of start-ups, helping them navigate the challenges of scaling up their operations. By providing a structured curriculum, intensive mentorship, and access to funding, accelerators enable start-ups to achieve significant milestones within a short time frame. 


active incubators


active accelerators


supported businesses a year
Centre for Entrepreneurs
Incubation Nation: The acceleration of UK startup support, September 2022

Services Offered by Incubators

Business incubators offer a diverse range of services designed to propel your start-up to success. These include:

Workspace:  Incubators provide affordable, flexible workspaces that foster creativity and collaboration. Start-ups gain access to shared facilities, such as meeting rooms, conference spaces, and even on-site laboratories, depending on the incubator's specialisation.

Mentorship and Expertise:  Incubators connect start-ups with seasoned entrepreneurs, industry experts, and experienced investors. To quote Sir Richard Branson - "While advisers and consultants can be very helpful, true mentors are effective because they are only interested in helping others succeed."

Networking Opportunities:  As part of an incubator, start-ups gain access to a vibrant network of like-minded individuals, potential clients, and investors. Networking events and seminars facilitate the forging of valuable connections, boosting your start-up's credibility and visibility.

Business Support:  Incubators offer invaluable advice on various aspects of running a business, including legal and financial guidance, marketing, and human resources. They also provide access to exclusive resources, such as market research databases and industry-specific tools.

Funding Opportunities: Many incubators connect start-ups to potential investors or offer funding opportunities themselves. This financial assistance can be a game-changer, empowering your company to overcome early-stage financial hurdles.

Services Offered by Accelerators

Business accelerators offer a range of services specifically designed to help start-ups scale rapidly. Some of the key offerings include:

Intensive Mentorship:  Accelerators provide start-ups with access to experienced mentors who offer guidance, advice, and industry insights. These mentors often have a successful track record in the start-up sector, enabling them to deliver targeted support.

Structured Curriculum:  Unlike incubators, accelerators typically have a well-defined, structured curriculum that covers various aspects of scaling a business. This curriculum may include workshops, masterclasses, and seminars on topics such as marketing, fundraising, product development, and customer acquisition.

Funding Opportunities:  Accelerators often provide start-ups with seed funding in exchange for a small percentage of equity. This investment enables entrepreneurs to focus on rapid growth without worrying about immediate financial constraints.

Demo Days and Pitch Events:  At the end of the accelerator programme, start-ups are given the opportunity to pitch their business to potential investors and industry experts during demo days. These events are vital for raising additional funding and increasing visibility in the market.

Networking Opportunities:  Accelerators connect start-ups with a diverse network of industry professionals, potential clients, and investors. As Sir Richard Branson said, "Succeeding in business is all about making connections."

75% of accelerators launched since 2019 were specialised

compared to 38% launched between 2015- 2018 and 29% before 2015

Incubation Nation: The acceleration of UK startup support, September 2022
Centre for Entrepreneurs

Incubators vs Accelerators: Key Differences

While both incubators and accelerators aim to support start-ups, there are several key distinctions between the two:

Stage of the Company:  Incubators cater to early-stage start-ups that are still developing their business idea, whereas accelerators target more mature start-ups with a proven product or service, focusing on rapid growth and scaling.

Duration:  Incubator programmes often have an open-ended term, providing long-term support, whereas accelerators operate within a fixed, short-term period, usually lasting between three and six months.

Curriculum:  Accelerators offer a structured curriculum focusing on rapid scaling, while incubators provide a more flexible, customisable range of services tailored to the specific needs of each start-up.

Equity and Funding: Accelerators often invest seed funding in start-ups in exchange for equity, while incubators may or may not provide direct financing. Instead, incubators typically focus on offering affordable workspace and access to resources, allowing start-ups to reduce costs and allocate resources more effectively.

Selection Process: Accelerators usually have a highly competitive selection process, accepting only a small cohort of start-ups with high-growth potential. Incubators tend to be more inclusive and may take a broader range of early-stage companies.

Cohort vs Individual Approach: Accelerators often operate with a cohort-based model, where a group of start-ups progress through the programme together, fostering collaboration and peer learning. Incubators usually support individual companies, allowing for a more personalised approach.
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Percentage of startups at different stages

Incubation Nation: The acceleration of UK startup support, September 2022
Centre for Entrepreneurs


Ideation/ Concept44%
Initial market offering / scaling60%


Ideation/ Concept53%
Initial market offering / scaling59%

Tips to optimise your Incubator or Accelerator application

Research and Selection: Thoroughly research the programmes available in the UK and their specific offerings, including industry focus, services, and resources provided. Choose an incubator that aligns with your start-up's needs and objectives, offering tailored support to your sector. Choose an accelerator that is best suited for your start-up's stage of development, sector, and growth objectives.

Clear Business Plan / Traction:  Develop a clear, concise, and compelling business plan that highlights your start-up's value proposition, target market, and revenue model. Demonstrating a solid understanding of your business's operations and growth potential will showcase your commitment and preparedness. Accelerators typically support start-ups that have demonstrated some level of traction or progress. Be prepared to showcase your product or service's development, customer base, or revenue generated thus far, highlighting your start-up's growth potential.

Team Strength:  Incubators value strong, diverse teams with a range of skills and experiences. Highlight the expertise and qualifications of your team members, showcasing how their unique backgrounds contribute to your start-up's success. Accelerators value talented, dedicated teams that can drive their start-ups to success. Showcase your team's skills, experience, and ability to work together, emphasising how each member contributes to your start-up's growth.

Market Validation:  Provide evidence of market validation, such as customer feedback, testimonials, or early sales data. Demonstrating that there is a genuine demand for your product or service will help convince incubators of your start-up's potential. Accelerators seek companies with significant growth potential, and demonstrating this in your application is crucial.

Scalability:  Incubators are more likely to support start-ups with significant growth potential. Clearly outline your plans for scaling your business, including strategies for expanding your customer base, entering new markets, or improving your product offering.

Understanding the programme's Criteria:  Familiarise yourself with the specific selection criteria and requirements of the programme you're applying to. Ensure your application addresses these criteria, demonstrating how your start-up meets or exceeds the programme's expectations.

Personalise Your Application:  Tailor your application to the specific programme, mentioning any relevant mentors, resources, or services that the programme offers that could benefit your start-up. This demonstrates your genuine interest in the incubator or accelerator you are applying to and your understanding of its unique offerings.

Prepare for Interviews:  If your application progresses to the interview stage, prepare thoroughly by practising your pitch, anticipating potential questions, and being ready to address any concerns or challenges. Showcasing your passion, dedication, and knowledge will leave a lasting impression on the interview panel.

Networking:  Attend networking events, workshops, or webinars organised by the programme or related industry organisations. Connecting with programme's representatives, mentors, or alumni can provide valuable insights and increase your start-up's visibility.

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