Accelerator and Incubator Alternatives
Not all accelerators are equal, and not all start-ups will benefit from their rigid programs. Here’s a list of alternatives to help grow your start-up without handing out shares left and right.
There are a truly absurd amount of accelerators and incubators around the world. For all the good they have done, they can also do plenty of damage. They come and go, and some leave several dissatisfied start-ups in their wake. In fact, there are so many coming and going that it is nearly impossible to keep an accurate, up-to-date list of them. For start-ups that have tried the traditional accelerator/incubator route, or are wary to go it at all, there are other options available.
Maker / Hackerspaces
For many, makerspaces are the grassroots ideal for start-up creation. These spaces have sophisticated equipment that some start-ups desperately require. Paying a membership fee means access to all the tools a young start-up might be itching for. Plus, as makerspaces become more prominent and popular, more companies are investing in them. Governments, corporations and even universities may offer funding or space. If you are near a big city, chances are you have a makerspace or hackerspace nearby.
The real power of these spaces doesn’t just end at equipment. They also tend to have a very energetic atmosphere. Surrounded by similar makers and creators, there is never a shortage of creativity or input. Another great advantage is how they lend credibility to an otherwise small or unknown start-up. Much like an endorsement from an accelerator or big company, having a real space to work lends traction to a new name. Start-up founder Tom Panzarella, who works out of a makerspace NextFab Studio explains:”You’re not these two guys in a garage building a robot, right. You have your 21,000-square-foot production space; the boardroom here is really nice if we need to have meetings.”
Ideal for: Access to expensive equipment
Examples: Sudo Room (USA), London Hackerspace, TechShop
Co-working Spaces of Varying Style
The beauty of co-working spaces are the unbelievable variety. From strict and quiet to friendly innovation bonanzas, they offer all kinds of support. Some are more invasive than others, offering perks that range far beyond a coffee machine. Many are run by like-minded founders and their experienced entourage. They may listen to pitches, share duties or offer helpful (totally optional) seminars. They might also just offer you a place to hang your hat and do your work. These are ideal spaces for being involved in an accelerator-like environment while keeping full control of your start-up and avoiding the type grip of rules or sponsors.
Ideal for: Making connections, getting outside help
Examples: Fishburners (Australia), Tech Liminal (USA), AfriLabs (Africa)
For the founder without a startup. Companies like these take great ideas and turn them into start-ups. To do so, they seek out founders. It’s sounds almost counterintuitive to the start-up culture, but for the right mind these scenarios might be ideal. This is for the entrepreneur that wants to be part of the culture but doesn’t have the “golden ticket” idea yet. Much like a carefully constructed boy-band, these institutes want to create a team that will flourish.
Ideal for: Entrepreneurs
Examples: NoveLook (Israel)
Hackathons and similar short events sound, at first, like what nerds might do on any given weekend. These platforms, however, thrive on a very vital part of innovation: speed. Technology, more than almost any other field, becomes irrelevant fast. Start-ups that take too much time to create, develop, or pitch are left in the dust. Events like Startup Weekend push individuals together with only the common goal of creating. They are a whirlwind education in how to become a successful start-up. Going into these events with a bit of forethought may also yield extra possibilities. Winners don’t just get a medal; they may get written up in Venture Beat or TechCrunch. Even BBC and CNN cover such events.
Ideal for: Mingling, Exposure and Experience
Examples: Startup Bus, Startup Weekend, Oxygen
Young people are becoming more and more comfortable with the idea of starting their own business. Multiple studies have shown that today’s students are deeply imbibed with an entrepreneurial spirit. They don’t want to work at corporations; they want to create something on their own. This is likely why university accelerators are becoming so widespread. Different programs have different requirements. While some have rather unusual requirements (for example, that a founder be enrolled in a certain program at their school) others actually accept founders that simply have a connection to the university—whether as an alumni, or even as a member of town. These programs also vary wildly in usefulness and the most successful are tied to the big, obvious names, like Harvard, MIT and Northeastern. They do not necessarily offer the same wealth of resources that a full-blown accelerator might. There are no outside mentors, and fewer big connections.
Ideal for: Young folks, getting your feet wet and staying local
Examples: Stanford StarX, Accelerate Cambridge
Another version of the city-funded program is start-up residency. Many of these wants start-ups to focus on certain local issues or ways to give back to their community. Of course, that can mean a lot of things. From fostering community, analyzing local data or helping the local economy. While many people may not think of themselves as the philanthropist-types, many new apps and technologies could make great changes to communities. Don’t forget, sometimes these residency programs do come from big companies looking to improve their own business.
Ideal for: Developing start-ups looking for outlets
Examples: San Fransisco Entrepreneurship in Residence, Amsterdam Entrepreneurship in Residence, Dell Startup-in-Residence
These are programs designed or highly backed by cities, counties or towns specifically to retain talent and start-ups in the area. They look a lot like incubators and accelerators, but with a very different goal. While they do want their start-ups to succeed, the overall goal is to help local companies thrive and stay in the area. As a result, they want to make their start-ups happy. They generally offer similar services as a traditional incubator, but rather scaled down. Granting space and mentorship, they might be a more reasonable support system for the everyday startup.
Ideal for: Getting an accelerator experience
Examples: International Labs Madrid, Welcome City Lab (France, tourism-specific)
Given how many accelerators will fail their start-ups, or how many start-ups are unprepared to be properly accelerated, these alternatives are always a step in the right direction. If organic acceleration just won’t cut it, or your start-up snagged a spot at the famed TechStars accelerator, then more traditional programs may be worth a try. Just don’t forget that it’s all a business. Not just any old building with a “start-up accelerator” sign will do the trick.
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image credit: impact hub global network