Incubator vs. Accelerator: What’s the Difference?

The innovation ecosystem is on fire in the Roanoke-Blacksburg region. With all the big ideas coming out of the area, it’s likely that you’ve heard the terms “incubator” and “accelerator” being thrown around in conversation. However, you may be wondering – what exactly is the difference between the two?

These types of programs do share similarities and both exist in the startup space. You’d be forgiven if you weren’t exactly sure what distinguishes one from the other. Luckily, their differences are pretty easy to spot, so let’s dive into what an incubator and an accelerator are and which might be right for you.

What is an Incubator?

All businesses start with an idea. The journey from idea to market is a long and complex one and founders can’t do it alone. Incubators are growth programs designed to support entrepreneurs in the very beginning stages of their journey—before they even have a product.

The main goal of an incubator is to turn a high-potential idea into an actual product or service. They help entrepreneurs flesh out a business plan, establish a network, and develop a minimally viable product (MVP). 

It’s rare for an incubator to invest capital funding at this stage, but they do provide other highly valuable resources to help a fledgling business get off the ground. Entrepreneurs in an incubator program will benefit from things like expert legal and business mentorship, access to co-working space to conduct business or research, a collaborative innovation community and opportunities to connect with future funders.  

Most companies spend at least a year participating in an incubator. If you’re an entrepreneur with a big idea, but still need help developing a business plan and product, then an incubator is the right choice for you. 

What is an Accelerator?

If an incubator is the first rung on the startup growth ladder, the accelerator is the next. Accelerators are growth programs designed for existing companies who have developed business models and a vetted MVP. Like incubators, accelerators also provide dedicated work facilities, legal services, and communities. Unlike incubators, accelerators come with investment funding. 

This funding, sometimes called seed funding or venture capital, supports an entrepreneur’s efforts to scale their business. Businesses receive funds in the form of grants or in exchange for a small percentage of equity in their business. 

Accelerators (as the name implies) typically have a shorter timeline than incubators and companies generally spend 3-6 months participating in the program. If your startup already has a solid business plan and product, but needs help scaling to the next level, then consider applying to an accelerator.

Regional Innovation Resources

How to Get Connected in the Regional Innovation Ecosystem

Incubators and accelerators are both powerful resources for turning big ideas into world-changing technology and products. At RBTC, we’re in the business of cultivating the region’s next generation innovation. 

We regularly host events that serve as a catalyst for innovation, inspiration, success, and leadership. Take RAMP’s Pitch & Polish events for example. Participants get valuable opportunities to pitch their business ideas to a team of regional mentors. The mentors then help them polish their presentation, provide feedback on their business model, and connect them with the resources they need to grow! 

Interested in growing your network and your next big idea? Check out our upcoming startup focused events and to get started. 

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