The differences between incubators and accelerators are a hot topic for discussion on startup sites and in magazines. Although the majority point out that accelerators, with their deadlines and financial investments, are a better option, I think there is a valid place in the startup culture for both services. As the co-founder of a startup that spent last summer in an incubator and is anticipating spending this summer in an accelerator, I have had the unique opportunity to measure both of the services and offer an in depth experience to making the choice between them. Incubators are a safe place to start and foster your business idea, which is both their asset and their detraction. Because it is a safe place, often with a strong community atmosphere, no one tells you that your idea is terrible. You are supposed to find that out for yourself after setting up meetings with your mentors and working on your idea. Unfortunately, for most incubator companies, this revelation doesn’t ever really happen. And that’s where the
case for business stagnation in incubators has a valid point. Without the intense accountability of an accelerator and investors, startups have a tendency to do what most people do; get a bit lost and focus on what they like to do rather than what needs to be done. Incubators are a great place to see someone’s skill set, because by default they tend to move to their comfort zone. Incubators, however, are a great place for a motivated team to explore an idea before it is a business. Without the pressure of intense deadlines and knowing you are using someone else’s money, you have the freedom to explore the “How” over the “Why.” Creating revenue plans without knowing if your intended technology is even a remote possibility can be incredibly stressful, and with looming deadlines, it can be more tempting to scrap an idea that had potential for one that is more likely to be profitable. Incubators are a safe place to explore, but also a great place to team build. Since the tendency, as I mentioned before, is to lean back into your comfortable skill set, you have the chance to see what your teammates do without intense direction from superiors and supervisors. Entrepreneurship and self-direction isn’t for everyone; incubators allow you the opportunity to see if what looked good on paper can execute working on their own in reality. I found some excellent value in working in the Syracuse Student Sandbox this summer, but we had very specific circumstances that made an incubator a good choice for my team at that specific time. 1. We were vetting the person who would become our tech co-founder. That time in the incubator allowed us to build the team without undue pressure on him. 2. We were focusing on whether or not our idea was executable. The business side had no role without a functioning idea, so we needed that time for trial and error. 3. We were all students at the time. We had a variety of other commitments; one of my co-founders and I were headed to a study abroad during a portion of the incubator. If any of those circumstances, or similar ones, apply to your situation, I can’t recommend an incubator enough. As long as you have a motivated team, and someone on that team who is willing to set hard deadlines, an incubator will allow you to grow. Our circumstances have changed completely since our time in the incubator. I now have a team that is dedicated solely to this business. Our idea has been figured out and is functional. Our focus in now on growth, user acquisition and generating revenue, all things that an experienced accelerator can assist us with. We are no longer a team figuring each other out and fostering an idea to see if it is possible, we are now ready to build and accelerate a business. At this point, the low-key atmosphere of an incubator would harm our growth. The choice between an incubator and an accelerator, to me, comes down to whether you want to foster an idea or grow a business. I’m certainly not saying that you can’t grow a business in an incubator or focus on the idea phase in an accelerator, but they are two very different business services that you should use to best benefit your business and co-founders. What are your thoughts on the differences between the two services?