How incubators or accelerators can help develop ideas or businesses

Last updated: 20 April 2017

If you have an idea or a business you're looking to develop, there are programmes you can join that can help you do this.

These programmes are often referred to as business 'incubators or accelerators'.

Incubators and accelerators

Incubators and accelerators can provide you with assistance to help you develop your idea or business. They aim to:

  • help businesses or ideas succeed
  • help you to work out if your idea is worth developing
  • reduce the time, effort and cost of succeeding
  • create jobs
Incubators and accelerators also give you the opportunity to develop your idea or business alongside like-minded people.

You can typically use the services of an incubator or accelerator for up to 3 years and they can be general or more specialised.

'General' incubators or accelerators accept applications from a range of different types of businesses.

More specialised incubators or accelerators focus on specific industries, for example, technology, food or science.

They can offer you the following help:

1. Premises and equipment

Incubators or accelerators can offer you subsidised office spaces and facilities such as:

  • laboratories
  • conference rooms
  • computers
  • presentation equipment

These premises will also typically offer shared reception services and high speed internet.

Specialised incubators or accelerators will have more specialised equipment, for example kitchens for food preparation and testing.

2. Advice and expertise

Incubators and accelerators can offer advice and expertise in:

  • marketing
  • finance
  • regulations
  • intellectual property

They can typically give training in pitching and writing business plans.

They also normally have experts and consultants who can offer advice in:

  • managing a business or project
  • scaling up your business or idea
  • overcoming any problems

3. Finance

Incubators and accelerators usually have links to banks or private financing. This could help you find funding for your idea or business.

They'll normally have information on local financial experts, as well as their own professional advisors who can offer free advice.

Choosing an incubator or accelerator

It's important you choose the right incubator or accelerator to develop your idea or business. When choosing one, you should think about the following things:

1. The history of the incubator or accelerator

Think about whether the incubator or accelerator has:

  • had many successful businesses or ideas come out of it
  • worked with businesses like yours
  • the skills you need
  • had success in attracting funding for businesses
Ask the incubator or accelerator to put you in touch with similar businesses who have worked with them, so you can ask about their experience.

2. Cost

Find out if there are any costs for using the incubators or accelerators. For example, some may ask for shares in your business.

3. Location

Find out if there is an incubator or accelerator program near you. They can be located in both the city and countryside.

4. Duration

Ask how long you can normally stay on the incubator or accelerator program. You should also ask if:

  • you can stay on for longer than the normal duration – if necessary
  • there's a cost for leaving early

5. Flexibility

You should ask how many days a week you'll need to commit to the incubator or accelerator and think about whether you can fit this into your life.

Some incubators or accelerators might be completely flexible and allow you to work around your other commitments.

6. Funding

Find out whether the incubator or accelerator can help you find funding.

You should also consider whether graduating from a particular incubator or accelerator will help you attract investment.

7. The application process

Think about how long the application process will take and whether this will distract you from developing your idea or business.

Applying for an incubator or accelerator

To apply for an incubator or accelerator you'll typically need a business plan and a pitch.

In this, you'll need to show how you intend to fund your idea or business, including:

  • any funding you have
  • how you intend to get funding

When you apply for an incubator or accelerator, they'll also look to see that you:

  • have a clear idea
  • know that you're committed
  • know how you want to develop this idea
  • understand how the incubator or accelerator could help

The application process

The process of applying to incubators or accelerators will be different depending on that particular incubator or accelerator. Find out how to apply by going to the incubator or accelerator's website.

Most incubators or accelerators will invite you for an interview and ask you to give a demonstration or presentation.

Incubators or accelerators in Scotland

Find more information on the incubators and accelerators in Scotland, and how they can help you develop your idea or business.