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Factory workers in a malting facility demonstrating the hands-on, practical aspects of startup incubators and accelerators
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What's the difference between an accelerator and incubator

While both accelerators and startup incubators aim to support the growth of startups, they differ in their approach and focus.

Here are some of their key differences:

  • Incubator programs work with startups before the MVP stage, providing long-term support and resources to help them develop and refine their business idea.
  • Accelerator programs work with startups that have a developed business model and product, providing an intensive, short-term program aimed at rapidly scaling the business.

1. Purpose and Goals

Startup incubators primarily focus on nurturing early-stage startups by helping them develop their business ideas and create a viable Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Incubators encourage innovation and provide an environment where founders can test their ideas and refine their business models. This long-term approach allows startups to build a solid foundation for future success.

On the other hand, accelerators target startups that have already developed an MVP and are looking to scale their business rapidly. Accelerator programs offer a fast-paced, intensive experience designed to propel startups to the next level, with the goal of attracting investors and increasing market share.

2. Program Structure

Incubator programs tend to be more flexible and on-demand, allowing startups to access resources and guidance as needed. This approach enables founders to adapt and evolve their businesses at their own pace, while benefiting from ongoing support.

Conversely, accelerator programs are typically fixed and highly structured, with a predetermined curriculum and timeline. Startups participating in accelerators often work closely with mentors and attend workshops to learn essential skills and strategies for growth. This immersive experience allows startups to make significant progress in a short amount of time.

3. Duration

Incubators generally provide support for a longer period, with an average duration of 1 to 3 years. This extended timeframe enables startups to carefully develop their business ideas and iterate on their products and services.

Accelerator programs, on the other hand, are much shorter, usually lasting between 3 to 6 months. The aim is to help startups achieve rapid growth and attract investment, making the most of the short, intensive program.

4. Funding and Returns

Both incubators and accelerators often receive a portion of the startup's equity, royalties, or ownership in exchange for their support. However, the specifics of this arrangement can vary. Incubators may take a smaller equity stake, as they tend to provide resources and mentorship over a longer period.

Accelerators often require a higher equity stake in return for the intensive, focused support and access to resources that they provide. Additionally, accelerator programs frequently have strong connections with investors and can help startups secure funding or forge partnerships.


In conclusion, while both accelerators and incubators share the common goal of fostering startup growth, they cater to different stages of a startup's journey. Incubators provide long-term support for early-stage startups, helping them develop and refine their business ideas and create a viable MVP. Accelerators, on the other hand, offer an intensive, short-term program for startups with a developed business model and product, focusing on rapid scaling and attracting investment. By understanding the key differences between these two support systems, startup founders can make an informed decision about which option best aligns with their current needs and future aspirations.

Incubators Accelerators
Venture stage Pre-MVP Post-MVP
Program Flexible and on-demand Fixed and highly structured
Duration 1 to 3 years (on avg.) 3 to 6 months (on avg.)
Return Equity, royalties or ownership Equity or partnership

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