Accelerators: Taking Businesses to the Next Level

There is much confusion about the difference between incubators and accelerators, as the prevalence of both types of spaces has dramatically increased over the past 10 years. While both may provide entrepreneurs with similar services such as office space, capital, mentorship and other resources, there are several differences between the two.

Incubators generally do not have a competitive process to select the businesses that they serve, while accelerators do have a competitive process to develop “cohorts” of businesses, and they are typically selected on a cyclical basis. Also, the length of time that a company is located in an accelerator is less than an incubator, as most accelerators want the businesses to graduate within three to six months. Therefore, the assistance provided is very intensive and allows entrepreneurs to learn at a rapid or accelerated pace.

Accelerators also frequently work with angel investors that will take an equity stake in a company once it graduates from the program. This provides the business with capital to take their product to market quickly. Investors are also more interested in businesses that are involved in an accelerator program as they have had a more stringent vetting process as part of the cohort selection.

The benefit of an accelerator program for the business owner is the vast amount of resources that are provided by the accelerator. Accelerators are run by professionals who have helped new businesses overcome many of the stumbling blocks that startups face, as well as the presence of peers that are in the same phase of development. A potential drawback for some businesses is that they generally will need to exchange equity in their company for participation in an accelerator program.

There are several accelerators located in Virginia, including Lighthouse Labs in Richmond, RAMP in Roanoke and Ignition in Williamsburg.

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