What is a startup incubator?
A startup incubator, or startup accelerator, is an organisation that helps startups develop their business. Their aim is to provide support for web hosting — as well as advice on management and finance — so that innovative startups can succeed in their earliest stages. There are different types of incubators, and they vary in terms of the services they offer. For example, while some specialise in helping startups raise funds, others can share their expertise in provisioning hardware or raw materials. Others can advise startups on services that are key to their growth, such as internal tools, communication campaigns, web services, and more.
In 1999, the French Ministry of Research promoted the creation of these bodies. There are different types of business incubators in France:
- Public incubators, which are linked to public or government organisations. They aim to spread the technologies and research they work on through the companies they support. They support companies in sectors such as healthcare, technology, engineering, the humanities, and social sciences.
- Private incubators, which are generally for-profit organisations. They are created independently, and can sometimes be supported by public bodies or companies.
- Incubators attached to prestigious universities, which allow students or alumni to start their own business with the university’s resources. They offer support and advice to help companies grow.
- Incubators for large companies or groups, who provide access to high volumes of resources, and establish partnerships between beneficiaries and hosting providers.
The difference between an incubator and an accelerator
Incubators support business owners and entrepreneurs. The goal of a business incubator is to help a company transform an innovative project idea into a successful business model. For a period of one or two years, they generally offer companies reduced prices for web hosting, hardware resources, custom support, and contact with other entrepreneurs, investors or potential customers.
Startup accelerators have the same goal — but as their name suggests, their program is designed for a shorter duration (between 3 and 6 months). Their focus is more on the financial and technical aspect of starting a business. The revenue model is also different. Rather than renting for an incubator, the accelerator takes shares in the startup company, and acts as an investor.
There are also many hybrid organisations that fall somewhere between these two structures.
Why choose a startup incubator to launch my project?
Incubators can help you achieve your innovative ideas. This kind of proactive ecosystem provides you with resources, advice, a network, and funding. You can also get services at a discounted price to help you get started. There are many ways in which a startup incubator can be a significant asset.
- Structuring your project: When you launch your business and start generating revenue, it is vital to build momentum. This involves both recruitment and funding. An incubator can provide you with advice and a network to keep you growing.
- Custom coaching: Embarking on an uncertain adventure can generate a lot of stress and pressure. If you join an incubator, you will have a team to support you. You will also be joined by other entrepreneurs, who you can talk to about your experiences and difficulties.
- Build a solid network with structures identical to yours.
- Training to help you with the features of your business.
- Explore innovative methods, and dynamic ways of working. Incubators have a young population: by comparing your ideas and work methods to others, you can develop quickly.
- Establish partnerships with companies related to your incubator. This can take a wide range of forms, from financing to trade in services.
- Gain credibility. Most incubators select innovative projects that can benefit from their services. By using an incubator, you get good visibility, and increased exposure.
An incubator provides a reassuring environment and a source of considerable opportunity for companies that are still getting to grips with their projects.
How do I choose a startup incubator?
To choose an incubator that will help you develop as much as possible, firstly you need to define your project’s characteristics (area of activity, interest, customer base, etc.). Once you have structured your idea, there are several things to consider when choosing your incubator:
- Choose an incubator to suit your project
There are many incubators specialised in different fields (tech, healthcare, agri-food, etc.). Everyone has their own area of expertise, so it’s a good idea to choose a field that relates to your business. This will mean you get advice that is better suited to your project, and will help you grow in a network that suits you best. It is important to find out about the support offered by the incubator before making your choice, as each one offers different hardware, financial and human resources.
- Choose an incubator according to the eligibility criteria
Eligibility criteria for incubators may vary depending on their area of expertise. You need to check that your project meets these criteria.
These criteria are based on your company’s sector of activity, the person driving the project and their career, and the project’s progress (stage of development, business plan, etc.).
- Choose an incubator that matches the support you need
Not all incubators offer the same support, so we recommend considering this before you make your choice. You need to keep in mind the duration and end-date for the support. Determine whether the investment provided by the incubator is full or partial. If you have logistical needs, select an incubator that provides on-premises services, hardware, etc.
If you need custom advice or specific training, choose an incubator that offers it in your company’s sector of activity.
- Trust your instinct
Finally, it is important to trust your instinct, which is more than just a minor detail. At the end of the day, incubators are man-made organisations that are designed to help a business grow. If you have doubts about the organisation, it could affect your morale, or the morale of your young team.