Incubators and accelerators are an entrepreneur’s best friend – or at least they can be. Many don’t even know they exist and if they do, they don’t know where to find one or how to get in one. Yet, business incubators provide numerous benefits to small businesses, start-ups and even larger businesses. Incubators and accelerators help make businesses stronger and give them starts. In fact, according to the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA), 87% of all companies that have used their incubators and graduated from the program are still in business.
What are Incubators?
Business incubators were being used as long ago as the 1950s. An incubator will allow the business to physically locate in its facility. Often there are other start-ups housed in the facility as well and all receive funding from the same venture group. The businesses have access to shared equipment such as copiers, fax machines and printers as well as a receptionist who answers calls and greets guests for all of the companies within the incubator.
The company is able to remain in the space as long as it needs to stay which is usually when it has grown to the point that it needs its own space. Mentoring is usually provided by supporters of the incubator and entrepreneurial investors with proven track records. CEOs of the businesses within the incubator also share information and learn from each other.
What are Accelerators?
Accelerators are much like incubators, but there are some very distinct differences. Companies that join an accelerator are allowed the space for only three to four months. There are no exceptions. The investment that the accelerator makes into your business is small compared to an incubator but those three or four months in the accelerator are time well spent. It is more than ample time for the company to find a third party investor and raise venture capital.
The mentoring comes from a large pool of entrepreneurs who are affiliated with or support the accelerator. Many of these are investors who seek opportunities as well as CEOs who have experience in startups.
How Do You Find Incubators?
There are several sites that list business incubators and accelerators. The NBIA website has an incubator locator where visitors can search by state or by country (http://www.nbia.org/links_to_member_incubators/). Webbmedia Group has an extensive list of accelerators along with helpful information about each including location and focus (http://webbmediagroup.com/list-of-incubators-and-accelerators).
Entrepreneurs looking for an accelerator or incubator can also check with their local chamber of commerce as well as nearby universities. These two places offer a wealth of information to business owners even without the incubator and accelerator information.
A simple web search can also point you in the right direction. Use search strings to zero in on the type you want. For example: Incubator + industry + city/state. There are several tech blogs that list incubators and accelerators that are specific to the tech industry.
How Do You Get In An Incubator?
The way to get into an accelerator or incubator differs somewhat with each facility. Many require business plan submissions and most have an extensive application process. Research your chosen facility and adhere strictly to their requirements.
You can improve your chances by exhibiting a very good understanding of your chosen industry. Know the trends, the audience and your competition. Have a clear vision of where you want your business to go and establish clear-cut goals as well as potential avenues that will make them happen. If you will be producing a product, it is good to have a prototype to show. Finally, if you are looking at an accelerator, try partnering with a few folks. Accelerators are notorious for favoring teams as opposed to individual entrepreneurs