What is a Startup Accelerator: A Complete Guide

Benjamin Debonneville
Founder & CEO
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The evolving world of startup funding is filled with many paths to success. Among them, startup accelerators stand out as a key ally for new businesses.

You might be surprised to know that big names, like Dropbox, got a significant boost from such programs. These accelerators are not just another trend, but a powerful tool that can propel a startup from an idea to a thriving venture.

Wondering what all the fuss is about and how they can help your business? Here is our complete guide for early entrepreneurs about startup accelerators, how it works, and what are the best options available out there:

What is a Startup Accelerator?

In the simplest terms, a startup accelerator is like a school for new businesses. Think of it as a special program that helps young startups grow fast.

For a few months, usually 3-6, these businesses get hands-on guidance, some money, and useful tools to boost their growth. It's a mentor-driven approach, where seasoned experts guide startups, helping them avoid common pitfalls.

The catch? They often ask for a bit of your company's ownership in return.

At the end, there's a big event called Demo Day where these startups get to show off their progress to potential investors. It's all about giving startups a fast track to success. Simple, right?

Why Startups Apply for Accelerator Program?

Startups eyeing rapid growth often turn to accelerator programs. But what exactly are they seeking from these intense, short-term engagements?

Let's break it down:

  • Funding: Getting financial backing to fuel growth and bring their innovative ideas to life.
  • Financial Assistance: Some programs offer grants, giving startups that extra financial cushion.
  • Pitching Opportunities: A stage to showcase their vision to potential investors and stakeholders.
  • Networking: Building connections with peers and industry experts for valuable insights and partnerships.
  • Skill Development: Learning from seasoned professionals, and gaining insights that refine their strategy.
  • Investor Access: A direct line to those who can financially propel their startup forward.

How Do Startup Accelerators Work?

Accelerator programs and startups are like teachers and students. Startups come in with an idea or a budding business, and accelerators provide the tools, guidance, and resources to help them grow.

It's a dedicated effort where both parties commit to mutual success. The programs, typically lasting a few intense months, are a blend of learning, funding, and networking.

The goal? Fast-track a startup's growth.

With accelerators, startups can achieve in months what might otherwise take years. It’s a quick-paced, intense, and rewarding journey, tailor-made for budding businesses eager to soar.

Here’s how it usually goes down:

  • Selection: Startups with strong potential, often having a basic product or idea, are chosen for the program.
  • Learning Program: Over 3-6 months, startups dive deep, learning from industry experts and refining their business models.
  • Curriculum: A mix of seminars, workshops, and interactive sessions to educate startups about industry nuances.
  • Networking: One-on-one sessions with potential investors, peers, and industry leaders provide startups a chance to expand and seek potential collaborations.
  • Demo Day: It's the grand finale where startups present their models, hoping to secure funding or partnerships.
  • Expert Support: Seasoned professionals offer mentorship, helping startups navigate challenges and seize opportunities.
  • Industry Engagement: Engaging with key industry figures ensures startups stay aligned with market needs and trends.
  • Growth Tools: Access to funding, training, and other vital resources to help startups scale and thrive.

Benefits & Drawbacks of a Startup Accelerator

Jumping on board a startup accelerator can be a game-changer for many young businesses. But, like most things in life, there are both upsides and downsides.

Here are the key benefits and challenges you might face in such a program:


  • Networking Opportunities: Joining an accelerator opens doors to connections within the industry, laying the foundations for future partnerships.
  • Personalized Guidance: These programs offer tailor-made advice and support, understanding each startup's unique needs.
  • Founders Collaboration: Working alongside other startups fosters a collaborative environment, sparking fresh ideas and strategies.
  • Funding Option: It's not just about mentorship. Many accelerators also offer vital startup capital.
  • Learning Opportunities: From seminars to workshops, there's a plethora of learning avenues.
  • Investor Access: It’s a golden ticket to interact with potential investors and secure future funding.
  • Skill Development: Mentors, often industry veterans, share their wisdom, enhancing the startup team's skill set.
  • Exposure to Market: Accelerators amplify your startup’s visibility in the market, drawing attention from customers and investors.


  • Equity Dilution: You might have to give away a piece of your business pie in return for accelerator benefits.
  • Time Intensive: The demands of the program can be all-consuming, requiring a high level of commitment.
  • Loss of Autonomy: Mentor guidance may sometimes be a diversion from your original vision.
  • Rigidity: Some programs come with strict schedules and fixed curriculums, offering little flexibility.
  • Limited Focus: An accelerator might concentrate on specific industries, possibly not aligning with every startup's aspirations.
  • Resource Constraints: Not all accelerators come equipped with the resources your startup might expect or need.
  • IP Risks: Your unique ideas could be exposed to third parties, posing intellectual property concerns.
  • Burnout Potential: The intense pace might exhaust your team, leading to fatigue and reduced productivity.

Accelerator vs Incubators: Key Differences

Another popular option for business founders, apart from accelerator programs, is joining a startup incubator.

Incubators nurture businesses from the ground up, focusing on entrepreneurs who are still fleshing out their business ideas and models, offering a supportive environment to grow and develop at a foundational level.

Key Differences Between Accelerators and Incubators:

Here is the list of key distinctions between startup accelerators and incubators that founders should know before deciding to join one:

1. Stage of Business:

Accelerators work with startups that have a minimal viable product (MVP) and are looking to scale rapidly. They’re typically in their early stages but beyond the concept phase.

Incubators, on the other hand, support entrepreneurs who have a business idea and need help bringing it to life.

2. Duration of Program:

Incubators operate on a more flexible, longer-term basis, often supporting startups for one to five years.

In contrast, accelerators offer intensive short-term programs, typically lasting three to six months, focusing on rapid growth and development.

3. Funding and Equity:

Accelerators often provide seed funding in exchange for equity in the startup. They’re investment-driven and focus on returns.

Incubators, however, rarely offer direct funding or take equity; they’re more focused on nurturing the business idea and providing support services.

4. Mentorship and Training:

The accelerator environment is intense, offering specialized, focused training and mentorship aimed at rapid growth.

Incubators provide a more relaxed, nurturing atmosphere with ongoing support to help entrepreneurs shape their business ideas and models.

5. Admission Criteria:

Getting into an accelerator requires a startup to have a tested or executed business model and MVP.

Incubators are less stringent, often accepting entrepreneurs based on the potential of their business idea and their plan to turn it into a viable business.

6. Program Focus:

Accelerators are goal-oriented, with structured programs aimed at specific outcomes, including rapid growth and investment readiness.

Incubators offer a more flexible, holistic approach, supporting entrepreneurs in developing their business ideas and plans over a longer period.

Choosing between an accelerator and an incubator depends largely on the stage of your business, your specific needs, and your goals for growth.

Best Accelerator for Your Startup (Options)

Choosing the right accelerator can be pivotal for a startup's journey to success. Each offers unique benefits, networks, and resources.

But before plunging into this ecosystem, it’s crucial for startups to evaluate their specific needs, stage of development, and the goals they're striving to achieve to ensure a harmonious and beneficial alliance.

Here is our list of the best startup accelerator programs for Founders:

  • Y Combinator: Based in the U.S., Y Combinator has propelled over 2,000 startups, including giants like Airbnb and Reddit. It's known for its extensive network, robust mentorship, and a 3-month program that concludes with a demo day, presenting startups to a select audience of investors.
  • Techstars: Techstars annually ushers 300 startups through a rigorous 3-month mentorship program. It’s known for industry-themed cohorts, offering startup funding and a platform to connect, learn, and grow with peers and mentors alike in specific industry domains.
  • 500 Startups: This San Francisco-based accelerator stands out with its rolling applications and a 4-month program focused on growth and scaling. Startups gain access to a global network and receive tailored support to navigate business challenges and market demands.
  • AngelPad: With a footprint in New York and San Francisco, AngelPad selects a handful of startups for intensive grooming. It emphasizes finding the optimal product-market fit and refining marketing strategies, ensuring startups are investor-ready and market-ready.
  • MassChallenge: A not-for-profit entity, MassChallenge supports high-potential startups globally without taking equity. Operating from various global offices, it boasts a decade-long legacy of nurturing startups, ensuring they are well-positioned for success and impact.
  • Dreamit Ventures: Dreamit Ventures caters to startups ready to scale, offering access to a world of executives, investors, and thought leaders. They specialize in health tech, urban tech, and secure tech, tailoring their program to meet the nuanced needs of startups in these sectors.
  • AlphaLab: This Pennsylvania-based firm provides an immersive 4-month program. Besides funding, startups benefit from a rich network of mentors and educational sessions, prepping them for market challenges and opportunities with a comprehensive support structure.
  • Google Launchpad Accelerator: It offers an equity-free support structure and all-expense-paid training in Silicon Valley. Startups gain access to Google’s extensive network, PR training, and intensive mentoring, ensuring they are well-equipped to scale new heights.

Final Thought

It is crucial to choose the right support for your startup, be it an incubator, accelerator, or venture capital. It's about finding the right mentor, the best resources, and the most suitable growth environment. With so many great options out there, your focus should be on what aligns best with your startup's current stage and future goals.

Remember, it's not just about getting funds; it's about building a foundation for long-term success. So, take your time, do your research, and set your startup on a path that makes its vision a reality.

Benjamin gave great tips to my start-up Blend for polishing and optimising my pitch deck, refreshing perspective. Recommend!