Incubators and Accelerators
The successful development of startups can stimulate prosperity in society through economic growth, new employment and learning opportunities, disruptive innovation, technological development, or a nation’s competitive position. Whether a startup grows successfully, however, depends on numerous internal and external factors. Startups, by definition, face challenges often caused by a lack of resources, knowledge, or network and must perform key decision-making in unknown situations in short timeframes.Incubators and accelerators provide support in overcoming these challenges through support programs. They help startups to develop sustainable business models, thereby building a successful path to knowledge valorisation.
Although there is no general consensus on the terminology, incubators usually act in an earlier stage of startup development than accelerators. They generally invest financially, but their main purpose is to transfer intangible resources such as business knowledge and network opportunities towards the startup . The financial investment is, dependent on the type of entity, provided in the form of a grant or a loan (e.g., a governmental or university incubator) or through equity (e.g., a corporate or private accelerator), often in the form of a SAFE (Simple Agreement for Future Equity) note.
Incubators and accelerators provide support and training on entrepreneurial skills through workshops, mentorships, and ongoing support, but also through opening up a network of investors, customers, potential partners and more. Some of these aspects come together in their investor-events (or ‘demo-days’). This is of great value for the founders and truly ‘accelerates’ the development and growth of their startup, especially for first-time founders.
For young students and researchers, innovation funding and incubators at universities often provide the first support for young researchers and students to develop a business idea. Later, sector-specific incubators and accelerators are appealing for entrepreneurs that are looking for more tailor-made approaches. Here, business advice and network introductions tend to be more specified to the needs of the startups. This is sometimes combined with a regional approach, where governmental institutions aim to strengthen the competitiveness of their region.
The access to finance, knowledge, and network opportunities lowers the barrier for students, researchers, experts and others that did not think about setting up a company to do so. In these programs, being amongst people who are encountering similar struggles in the hectic life of an entrepreneur can not only create awareness that you are not alone, but also create a peer-to-peer learning environment that benefits all. This establishes a community feeling, another important feature of incubators and accelerators.
Different shapes and sizes
There are numerous types of startup support programs facilitated by such actors operating in different fields. Several of those have been showcased in the Best Practices Repository on this Platform.
- University Antwerp Spin-off Community | to learn from peers and act as a facilitator and initiator for further R&D collaborations between the university and the members of its ecosystem (Belgium)
- VTT Launchpad | an in-house business incubator that aims at creating fundable spin-off companies built on technologies developed by the researchers working at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.
- 10K Incubator for students | aims to fill a gap in the support of students in entrepreneurship, by targeting all students, early on, from all possible fields of studies at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (Netherlands).
- Demonstrator Lab: Where entrepreneurial academics become academic entrepreneurs | at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Netherlands).
- Innovation Fund of the University of Ljubljana | offering financial support for projects as well as mentoring of research teams and support to commercialisation activities. (Slovenia)
- Funding innovation from academic research |The Innovation Project Fund (IPF) provides a grant aimed at valorising and supporting innovation from academic research from the three partner Universities (Milano Bicocca, Bergamo and Pavia - Italy).
- Crowdfunding for university born projects - BiUniCrowd | is a funding programme launched in 2018 to give to the academic community the opportunity to fund projects and ideas with the support of people outside the university. (Italy)
Incubators that have been supported by the European Framework Programme Horizon Europe include:
- Incubator for female entrepreneurs in Lebanon contributing to the rise of women in entrepreneurship.
- Agrifood incubator that brought together a wide variety of agrifood stakeholders.
- EIT Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KIC) of the European Institute of Innovation & Technology like the Climate-KIC.
If you like to share your experience of running an incubator or accelerator at European level: