How to choose an incubator to help get your business idea to market

By Ben Jones, AberInnovation

You often hear the labels incubator and accelerator and they’re often used as if they are interchangeable terms but there is increasing agreement that they are different.

In broad terms accelerators tend to take a few months and equip their participants with business skills and knowledge via mentorship, workshops and networking. Business incubators usually operate on a flexible time frame, ending when the business in question has a proposition to pitch to investors or potential customers.

Incubation programmes tend to adopt a more flexible approach to their participants’ needs, reacting to and addressing them on a case-by-case basis.

Entrepreneur Handbook lists 153 accelerators and start-ups in the UK alone, so you’re bound to have lots of choice.

How can you choose the right incubator for your business idea?

Research to for the Right Fit

Some business incubators are sector agnostic, others are very sector-specific. Some require you to have a solid business idea and a plan, others want growth-stage businesses, whereas with some you don’t even need an idea to begin with – they will give you a proposition to develop and hone. So, the first step is to look for an incubator that suits the stage your business is currently at.

Look for one that works specifically in your sector. Working with experts who are well-versed in the emerging trends within a particular industry and networked with the big players in that space could provide a real fillip to your fledgling business.

If your business is less technical, or there aren’t any suitable incubators for your sector/niche, then a sector agnostic incubator can be a good choice as you’ll get access to experts across a range of businesses areas. If choosing one of these incubators, the next few points become even more important when making your final decision.

The Cardiff Medicentre is a business incubator focussing on health,  wellbeing and the life sciences, while BioAccelerate at AberInnovation is designed to bring innovations in biotechnology, agri-tech and food and drink to life.

For a more generalist incubator, London-based Seedcloud support all ideas in the B2B space while the long-established YCombinator is sector agnostic and has two intakes per year.

Consider a university-affiliated incubator

As you might expect, universities are a hotbed of ideas and innovation. They bring together pre-eminent scholars, world-leading facilities and significant tranches of funding in an attempt to solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges and to create new knowledge and understanding for the benefit of society as a whole.

Done right, university-affiliated business incubators can greatly enhance this knowledge exchange mission and allow startups to capitalise on new findings and insights coming from the academic base emergent at universities. In other words, you want to be as close as possible to where research, development and innovation are thriving.

This is particularly important if your business is tech, sciences, health, or climate-related.  Where access to experts, research, or testing facilities is important, linking with a biotechnology company can be a major benefit.

Facilities and Equipment

Many companies – especially startups – can only dream of being able to afford some of the equipment that universities have access to. Innovation does not come cheap, and machinery and specialist kit costing millions are often required. Fortunately, for innovative companies, universities are often happy to collaborate and allow use of such equipment via specific R&D projects.

Some of the better business incubators will have easy access to the requisite equipment and will actively encourage their cohorts to make the most of the facilities on offer in order to develop their propositions. Even better, they can provide training, technicians, and academic expertise to help you on your way and to make the most of the services available.

So, think about the technology you may need, or the testing facilities that will help take you from beta to launch. And then look for an incubator that offers access to these.

For example, AberInnovation has a newly built pilot scale biorefinery connected to its Future Food Centre. Having both capabilities under one roof makes it a unique proposition in the UK and a perfect site for circular economy innovations. In a similar vein, incubation programmes offered by the European Marine Science Park in Scotland have all the equipment and facilities (not to mention the ocean environments!) needed for marine science companies.

A strong network

Having developed and refined your idea and no doubt been through several painful iterations, you are very likely to need to bring others into the fold at some stage. A good incubator will be well networked with key professional services that you can access over the course of the programme, such as intellectual property attorneys, human resources experts, finance support and so on. What’s more, you’ll want a programme that has strong links to the venture capital community.

Most incubators offer pitching opportunities – take notice of who is on those panels. Will you be going to be in front of the right people? You will have worked incredibly hard so you want a chance to impress those groups or individuals who will be the most helpful for you in the next step for your business idea.

Will there be funding?

It’s also worth drilling down into exactly what’s on offer at these pitching events. What are you pitching for? Some panels might boast the right organisations, but they may be there in more of a feedback-giving role. You’ll want to know whether there’s actual ‘money on the table’ at the end of the programme. Moreover, what are the stipulations attached to spending or drawing down this money? Some terms and conditions will be stringent and rather onerous, while some programmes are happy to take a more hands-off approach to how you spend it – within reason of course!

Importance of location

The time of rushing around the country to meet prospective collaborators, clients and stakeholders may be largely behind us. It’s fair to say that recent events have shown us what a credible job video-conferencing programmes can do in lieu of actual face-to-face meetings. With that said, it would be unwise to disregard location completely when it comes to choosing an incubator. Ideally find one within an easy commute, so you can get the benefits of some hands-on experience and interpersonal interaction.


Ben Jones is from AberInnovation. Aberystwyth Innovation and Enterprise Campus (AberInnovation) provides world-leading facilities and expertise within the biotechnology, agri-tech, and food and drink sectors. Set in stunning scenery between the Cambrian Mountains and the Irish Sea, the £40.5m Campus offers an ideal environment for business and academic collaboration to flourish.

For more information about BioAccelerate:

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