Thoughts on startups by investors that
fund them & entrepreneurs that run them

Startup Accelerators are Entrepreneur Boot Camps


Business incubators for sharing services were all the rage back in the days of the dot-com bubble (700 for profit, many more non-profit). About that time the bubble burst, causing more than 80% of them to disappear. Now they are coming back, and the best even provide networking, technical leadership, and seed funding, as well as investors waving money at graduates.

Incubators I hear mentioned most often include YCombinator, led by Paul Graham in Silicon Valley, and TechStars, located in Boston, Boulder, New York City, and Seattle. TechStars has several excellent mentors on staff, led by founder and CEO David Cohen. Both provide excellent networking to investors, and on-site technical leadership, which I believe sets them apart.

By way of a definition, a business or startup incubator is a company, university, or other organization which provides resources to nurture young companies, helping them to survive and grow during the startup period when they are most vulnerable. The goal of most business incubators today is to strengthen the local economy, and commercialize new technologies. A few are still trying to make money doing it, but it is hard to make money off startups.

“Business accelerators” is another term often used interchangeably with incubators. The key difference between them, according to purists, is that accelerators compress the timescale for startups by operating as a type of boot camp. The incubation period is very short and intense, usually intending to drive entrepreneurs from ideas to marketable products in a matter of months.

Most incubators and accelerators today provide one or more of the following:

  • flexible space and leases, often at very low rates
  • business support services for a fee, including administrative support, telephone answering, graphic services, bookkeeping, copy machine access, and meeting rooms
  • group rates for health, life and other insurance plans
  • business and technical assistance either on site or through a community referral system
  • assistance in obtaining funding, or direct seed funding
  • networking with other entrepreneurs

Incubators differ from research and technology parks, in that most research and technology parks do not offer business assistance services, the hallmark of a business incubation program. However, many research and technology parks also house incubation programs. Another variation is technology business incubators, which nurture high-tech startups and present a technology oriented variant of business incubators.

To find what’s available in your area, take a look at the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA) web site, and use the lookup tool provided. This organization claims to be the world’s leading organization for advancing business incubation and entrepreneurship. Another sure-fire approach to finding what’s available is to check local university resources, or even websites, like TechCocktail, which recently ranked the “Top 15 USA Startup Accelerators.”

The only down-side I have heard is that many business incubators used to be notoriously high-pressure environments where a lucrative exit strategy was more important than the half-baked products. If that’s the toughest problem you face as a startup, then you probably didn’t need an incubator in the first place.

Experts agree that the real value of an incubator is in the relationships, and relationships work best when the entrepreneur has selected a real market opportunity, with plans to address it in a unique, powerful, and direct manner.

For that reason, I am a strong proponent of incubators that screen prospective clients carefully, selecting only the best ones, and track whether they can handle responsibilities, like paying the rent. All startups are expected to “graduate” in a timely fashion to stand on their own two feet.

To convince you it can work, TechCrunch recently aggregated the combined valuation of YCombinator companies at $7.78 billion. However, if you are looking for an incubator for “free” money and services, you should think again. Look for the best mentors, and the toughest regimen for program survival. They can make the real world look like a walk in the park, with investors dropping money along the way.

Written by Martin Zwilling

user Martin Zwilling Founder and CEO,
Startup Professionals

Martin is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and angel investor. He is the Founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides products and services to startup founders and small business owners.

prev next

You might also be interested in

The UrbanTech Movement is Transforming Cities

Urbanization is a defining process of modern life.

More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, and the number of urban citizens around the world is projected to rise to 66% by 2050.

In the US, over 80% of the population lives in urban areas with 1 in 7 Americans living in New York, Los Angeles and

Read more >

Angel Investors Spotlight: An Inside Look at Hudson Valley Startup Fund’s Investment Process & Advice for Founders

Hudson Valley Startup Fund brings together a network of the region’s successful business and community leaders to give back, supporting the launch of the next Hudson Valley visionaries. We sat down with fund managers Chad Gomes, Johnny LeHane and Paul Hakim as they shared insights into their investment process, what they look for in both group members and startups, and

Read more >

The Right Startup Advisors Are As Valuable As Money

If you are a new entrepreneur, or entering a new business area, it’s always worth your time to assemble an Advisory Board of two or three executives who have travelled that road before. You need them before you need funding, and if you select the wrong people, or use them incorrectly, no amount of money will likely save your startup.

Read more >

How do I get in touch with investors/funds with just an idea and no product?

There are many wonderful ideas, and they are not necessarily easy to come up with. So congratulations on having thought of one!


“Having value” and “Being fundable” are two completely different things. What the more experienced responders here are saying is completely accurate: while a good idea is usually a necessary ingredient for the formation of a good company, it is

Read more >

Is there an incubator for aspiring Angel Investors or VCs?

No, but there are several sets of courses on angel investing that can provide a good base from which to start. The most comprehensive and best known is the Power of Angel Investing seminar series developed by the Angel Resource Institute (formerly known as the Angel Capital Education Foundation, and prior to that part of the Angel Capital Association). It

Read more >