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Accelerators vs. Incubators: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 20, 2023
Accelerators fast-track business growth; incubators nurture early-stage startups.

Key Differences

Accelerators are typically programs that offer startups a combination of mentorship, resources, office space, and often capital, with the aim of propelling them quickly toward growth or investment stages. Incubators, on the other hand, are more focused on nurturing early-stage startups, often by providing resources, mentorship, and workspace, but without the pressing timeline.
While both accelerators and incubators can be invaluable for startups, they cater to different stages of business development. Accelerators usually expect startups to have a solid business model and a minimum viable product (MVP) in place. In contrast, incubators often take startups at ideation stages, helping them build from scratch.
The model of accelerators typically involves a set timeframe during which startups participate in intensive programs, which culminate in a "demo day" or pitch event to investors. Incubators generally don't have such strict timelines and allow startups to grow at their own pace, ensuring foundational stability.
Financially, accelerators often provide capital in exchange for equity in the startup. Incubators, on the other hand, might not always offer funding but when they do, it's often in the form of grants or through connections with potential investors.
The environments in accelerators and incubators also differ. Accelerators tend to create a competitive atmosphere to drive rapid growth, while incubators foster a collaborative space where startups can learn, iterate, and develop over time.

Comparison Chart

Primary Focus

Fast-track growth and scaling.
Nurturing startups from ideation stages.

Typical Duration

Set timeframe (often a few months).
More flexible, longer duration.


Often take equity for funding provided.
May or may not take equity.

Stage of Startup

MVP or early growth stage.
Ideation or very early stage.

End Event

Often culminate in a demo day or pitch event.
No fixed end event.

Accelerators and Incubators Definitions


Offer mentorship, resources, and often capital.
Through the accelerator, they received mentorship from industry experts.


Offer mentorship, resources, and a supportive environment.
The incubator provided them with a co-working space and valuable connections.


Operate within a set timeframe.
The accelerator's three-month program was intense but rewarding.


Programs that nurture early-stage startups.
The founder joined an incubator to develop her business idea.


Programs that fast-track startup growth.
The startup joined an accelerator to gain investor visibility.


Focus on building strong business foundations.
With the incubator's guidance, they established a robust business model.


Focus on rapid scaling and development.
Joining an accelerator helped them scale their operations tenfold.


Often foster collaborative atmospheres.
The incubator organized weekly meetups for startups to collaborate and share insights.


May require equity exchange for participation.
The accelerator provided funding in exchange for a 10% equity stake.


Have a more flexible, longer-term approach.
The startup spent a year in the incubator refining its product.


A device, especially the gas pedal of a motor vehicle, for increasing speed.


An apparatus in which environmental conditions, such as temperature and humidity, can be controlled, often used for growing bacterial cultures, hatching eggs artificially, or providing suitable conditions for a chemical or biological reaction.


(Chemistry) A substance that increases the speed of a reaction.


(Medicine) An apparatus for maintaining an infant, especially a premature infant, in an environment of controlled temperature, humidity, and oxygen concentration.


(Physics) A particle accelerator.


A place or situation that permits or encourages the formation and development, as of new ideas
A university that was an incubator of new approaches to sociology.


(Business) An organization that provides new businesses with mentoring, funding, and other services and resources, usually for a limited period of a few months, in exchange for equity.


An organization that provides new businesses with technical and support services and usually low-cost office space or infrastructure.


Plural of accelerator


Plural of incubator


What is an accelerator?

An accelerator is a program designed to fast-track the growth and success of startups and early-stage companies through mentorship, funding, and resources.

How long do accelerator programs typically last?

Accelerator programs generally last between 3 to 6 months.

Can any company join an accelerator?

While any company can apply, accelerators usually focus on startups with scalable business models that are in their early stages.

Where can one find accelerator programs?

Major cities around the world host accelerators; they can also be found through online directories or startup ecosystem platforms.

What is an incubator?

An incubator is a supportive environment or program designed to nurture and grow early-stage startups by providing resources, mentorship, and often physical space.

Why should a startup join an accelerator?

Startups can benefit from mentorship, networking opportunities, funding, resources, office space, and increased exposure.

Who typically mentors at accelerators?

Mentors can be industry veterans, successful entrepreneurs, investors, or other experts in the field.

Do incubators charge for their services?

Some may charge a fee or rent for physical space, while others might be funded by universities, governments, or private entities and offer services for free or in exchange for equity.

Do accelerators take equity in startups?

Yes, most accelerators take an equity stake in the participating startups, typically ranging from 5% to 10%.

Do accelerators provide funding?

Yes, many accelerators provide seed funding in exchange for equity.

Are there industry-specific accelerators?

Yes, there are accelerators focused on specific industries, like fintech, health tech, or agtech.

How is an incubator different from an accelerator?

While both support startups, incubators tend to have a longer, less structured duration and focus on the very early stages of a business. They may not always provide direct funding like accelerators.

Are incubators only for tech startups?

No, incubators can support a range of business types, not just tech-focused startups.

How competitive are accelerator programs?

They can be highly competitive, with many startups applying for limited spots.

Do incubators take equity?

Some do, but many incubators operate without taking an equity stake in the startup.

What are the main benefits of joining an incubator?

Startups can access mentorship, networking opportunities, resources, and often a physical working space.

Are incubators industry-specific?

Some are. There are incubators dedicated to specific sectors, while others are open to a variety of businesses.

How can one find an incubator program?

They can be found in startup ecosystems, university programs, through online directories, or local business development organizations.

Who should consider joining an incubator?

Entrepreneurs with a budding idea or very early-stage startups that need guidance, resources, and a supportive environment.

How long do startups typically stay in incubators?

The duration can vary, but startups often stay in incubators for 6 months to 2 years.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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