Many founders pursue incubation programs for their startup projects. While the concept isn't necessarily a guarantee for success, it offers a helping hand during the hardest time of development.
Among others, incubators help founders avoid common first-time mistakes. They also bring founders, industry experts, and investors together.
They are sometimes government-funded or established by universities. In some cases, they can be founded by serial entrepreneurs to help with the growth of a particular industry or by a VC fund in order to get early access to a pipeline of new startups.
Startups that join an incubator gain access to:
- Free (or low-cost) co-working space
- Industry-relevant business resources
- Investor contacts for funding opportunities
- Mentorship & 1-on-1 training
- Useful perks that expedite growth
In this article, we will list, in no particular order, the 16 best incubators for startups in 2020. Make sure you explore each option carefully, to understand the specific industry each incubator operates in. Based on that you can determine if your company is an eligible candidate.
Best incubators for startups in Europe
The incubators listed below are located in European countries. While most options are open to startups from all over the world, some have strict limitations for their selection process.
Location: Edinburgh, Stirling & Aberdeen, Scotland
Established in 2014, Codebase is one of the best incubators for startups in Europe. The organization is present in 3 cities and holds strategic corporate partnerships with Barclays.
- Startups from CodeBase have raised over $600m
- Hosts 10-week pre-accelerator program.
- Delivers mentorship sessions in 24 cities all over the UK.
Location: Barcelona & Madrid, Spain
SeedRocket is an incubator and accelerator focused on tech startups. Due to their partnership with Google For Startups, the organization offers a large number of perks to the startups they choose to work with.
- Offers a 13-week accelerator program with a no-equity business model.
- Selected projects can work in more than 50 co-working spaces worldwide.
- Early-stage companies can be nominated for the Spark program which offers a 6-figure package of Google-related perks.
- According to an analysis published by Expansión, if you had invested in every single startup that won the SeedRocket accelerator program, you'd have a 3.7x ROI.
Si hubieras invertido en todas las startups ganadoras de @seedrocket habrías obtenido un 3,7x en dinero devuelto y todaía tendrías en cartera startups como para hacer un 7x (Endado, Micolet, Ratedpower, Flanks,...) . Hoy el @expansioncom saca un artículo interesante: pic.twitter.com/4Je68GV4wL— jesus monleon (@jemonleon) July 13, 2020
Location(s): Madrid, Barcelona, Mallorca & Galicia, Spain
Conector is a Spanish startup accelerator that provides mentorship services for entrepreneurs and seed-stage startups. With HQ in Barcelona, it focuses on tech-oriented early-stage companies and is considered to be one of the best incubators for startups.
- Hosts a travel tech accelerator in Mallorca - Conector Travel-Tech - that supports seed-stage startups with launched MVP products.
- Accepted startups at Conector receive perks valued at more than $ 400,000.
- As of 2020, Conector has raised more than $200m for 126 startups.
Location: Menorca, Spain & Mayakoba, Mexico
Decelera is the world's first Startup Decelerator. They offer accelerator programs to second-time founders, aiming to help them to find the best performing growth model to scale their latest startup sustainably.
- Offers a 2-week accelerator program followed by an 18-month support period.
- Focuses on projects that have a tested MVP with solid metrics with the aim of global expansion.
- The "deceleration model" takes away the focus on speed and places it on building meaningful relationships, adopting sustainable business models, and solving global-scale issues.
- Selects startups that are aligned with at least one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
Location: Delft, The Netherlands
Yes!Delft is one of the leading European startup incubators with a diverse range of accelerator programs. The facility supports tech projects, from inception to exit, by offering funding support, mentorship opportunities, and a network of experienced professionals.
- Ideation projects can participate in the 10-week Validation Lab and get insights from 100+ potential customers.
- YES!Delft receives no equity from accelerator projects. Instead, it works on a split success fee which is reinvested into the incubator.
- A separate 10-week program is offered to help startup founders become more attractive to potential investors, improving their funding chances.
Location: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
ACE offers a 9-week incubation program to tech startups that are affiliated with Amsterdam Universities, as well as the UMC or NWO institutes. The company offers support to early-stage startups but also established tech companies that are ready to scale.
- Idea stage incubator - applicants don't need to have a pre-developed MVP, but there is a large list of selection criteria.
- Incubation programs occur bi-annually, in May and November.
- Provides a startup visa for selected candidates that wish to develop their product in The Netherlands.
Best startup incubators in the USA
The US has a rich presence of business incubators for startups in tech-related industries. Some are open to international startups, while others are focused on state-specific projects.
Location: Gainesville, FL (The Hub) & Alachua, FL (Sid Martin Biotech)
UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem at the University of Florida. The organization has two business incubators known as The Hub and Sid Martin Biotech. The Hub (shown above) recently expanded in size, providing more than 100.000 square feet in space for tech startups.
- Both incubators are open to startups with no affiliation to the University of Florida. The programs are not solely exclusive to UF students
- The Hub is a mixed-use incubator, providing both a co-working area and acceleration programs.
- Sid-Martin Biotech is solely focused on biotechnology startups.
Location: Chicago, IL
MATTER supports healthcare startups in all their growth stages. The founders and entrepreneurs that become part of their community are introduced to a large network of industry executives and investors, which expedites the growth of their business.
- Organizes multiple seminars, workshops, problem-solving roundtables, and fireside chats focused on healthcare innovation.
- Network opportunities through curated programs with fellow industry leaders, healthcare experts, and passionate founders.
- No-profit and no-equity business model with a focus on building an inclusive community.
Location: Atlanta, GA
Founded in 1979, the ATDC is one of the oldest tech incubators in America. In 2010 and 2013, Forbes mentioned ATDC in its list of "Incubators Changing the World" next to Y Combinator and the Environmental Business Cluster.
- 90% of ATDC-supported startups are successful 5 years after graduation.
- Individual mentoring by world-class entrepreneurs and tech experts as well as a community of experienced mentors.
- Support and expertise from companies that have previously been fostered by the incubator, as well as corporate partners.
Location: Worcester, MA
WorcLab is an organization that supports Massachusetts-based startups to drive innovation and create new job opportunities. The incubator that hosts WorcLab-selected startups provides low-cost office space and the necessary facilities to build and test MVP products.
- Offers dedicated event space, and additional manufacturing support. All these facilities are available in-house and come at a low cost for members of the community.
- Works closely with WPI, a one of the top engineering schools in the US, and Umass Medical School, one of the leading medical schools in the nation.
- Members have generated $3.6 million in revenue and almost $8 million in funding.
- The organization has more than 100 employees and supports the growth of more than 40 companies.
Location: Los Angeles, CA
LACI is an incubator that aims to build a cleantech community by supporting startup projects from underrepresented groups. The organization focuses on projects that create innovative solutions related to energy, transportation, and sustainable city hosts.
- Selected candidates get 2-year access to the grounds of the La Kretz Innovation Campus.
- LACI startups can use the Advanced Prototyping Center (APC), a workspace where teams can build and test new products using equipment worth well over $11 million.
- The incubator is open to cleantech startups located in Southern California.
Location: Syracuse, NY
The Tech Garden (TTG) is the hotspot of tech entrepreneurs in Central New York. Early-stage projects can make use of the incubation services they need to achieve their venture goals through a diverse range of programs, events, and resources.
- Through TTG's HotSpot program, early-stage startups can access the grounds for up to 5-years.
- Members can apply for short-term accelerators as well as long term programs designed for early-stage companies.
- Funding is set at specific amounts depending on the stage of your company and the program you choose to apply for.
Location: Irvine, CA
ULP is a state-of-the-art incubator (and co-working space) that could be mistaken for a luxury hotel. The organization is very picky when it comes to its applicants, and accepted candidates need to pay a hefty fee for their station.
- Due to a large number of applications, candidates need to pass a screening process and an interview that determines their eligibility for participation.
- Open to Lifescience & Medtech startups; applications from other industries are rejected.
- Members need to pay $1950 per month for a 6 ft. lab bench or $5950 per month for a private lab suite.
Location: Austin, Texas
Capital Factory is a Texas-based incubator for early-stage startups. Successful applicants make use of a free co-working space, hosting credits, a company advocate, and a network of top investors and entrepreneurs in Texas.
- Capital Factory receives a 1% equity stake and the right to invest in the company's next funding round.
- Startups are strengthened by an Investor Relations Associate, who increases your chances of successful fundraising.
- 6-months of free co-working membership and $250.000+ in hosting credits from Microsoft, Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Google, and others.
Other business incubators
These top startup incubators are neither located in Europe nor the US.
Location: Kowloon, China
TXD is one of the most popular tech startup incubators. It is originally created by DeepTeck, a community of deep technology experts, and TusPark HK, one of the largest startup incubation groups in China. The organization aims to become one of the top incubators in Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area, and offer support to the most prominent tech-related startups.
- Their 3-month Inside Out (IO) program provides support to individual PhDs or groups of scientists who want to transform their tech-related ideas into actual businesses.
- Next to IO, TXD also offers its Outside In (OI) program, which helps Asian startups utilize the latest technologies to add value to their business model.
- You can read about both programs in more depth here.
Location: Remote - Virtual incubator
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many startup founders have started to consider the possibility of applying to the best startup remote accelerators. The concept is very interesting, as it allows early-stage companies to build their product from anywhere, while enjoying the perks typically associated with such programs. While it may not fit your typical incubator standards,Pioneer is doing just that. The organization operates fully online and offers support to entrepreneurs all over the world.
- Pioneers can give up 1% of their equity for a large list of perks and mentorships from the world's most successful entrepreneurs.
- A select number of startups can apply for larger funding opportunities in exchange for a larger percentage of their company (up to 10%).
- All startups that join Pioneer are required to establish a US (parent) company to receive funding.
- Pioneer also offers a very rewarding referral program. If you know any startups looking to fund their projects you could end up owning 0,5% of their company's equity.
Location: San Francisco, California
InnoSpring is one of the most popular bay area incubators and possible one of the top incubators in the US. The facility is a joint collaboration between the US and China, aiming to connect well established companies with now and promising startup companies. Furthermore, its main focus lies in tech startups, AI, and the cannabis industry. Similar to most of the other options in the startup incubators list, InnoSpring offers a number of different services, including mentoring, office space, funding opportunities and a number of different services to complement early-stage businesses.
- Only provides funding to US-based seed and preseed tech startups. Furthermore, they emphasize on businesses that have interests in China.
- Their startup incubation program is funded by IDG Capital, Northern Light Venture, Legend Capital, SoftBank China Venture Capital and LegendStar.
Location: San Francisco, California
ShangPharma Innovation offers one of the best incubator programs for biotech and pharmaceutical startups. More specifically, the facility supports early-stage companies from the ideation phase all the way to clinical validation. The incubator provides startups with high-tech laboratory space, specialized equipment that suits their needs and continuous access to industry experts and their services. For many in the biotech industry, ShangPharma is considered to be one of the top incubators in the world, since it is responsible for many therapeutic breakthroughs and helps founders reach business success.
- Facility of 30,000 sq.ft. with a modern laboratory space and high tech equipment for drug testing and development.
- Qualified startups work alongside with the US division of ChemPartner, benefiting from services that help their business grow.
- The incubator provides Seed and Series A funding while providing strategic guidance and support to team that pursue therapeutic breakthroughs.
Will this list of incubators be updated frequently?
Yes, we aim to regularly add and update content in the page, to keep you well-informed when it comes to all the top business incubators. We have noticed that most posts that aim to provide similar information focus more on accelerators rather than incubators; this is mostly due to a lack of in-depth research which we aim to excel at. Therefore, if you are looking for the best incubators in the USA, or the best incubators in Europe, rest assured that this is the most reliable resource.
Is there a difference between an early stage startup incubator and a growth startup incubator?
The incubator’s facility and provided services are mostly similar in both cases. Both offer office space, mentoring, networking opportunities and industry-relevant training. However, early stage startups will often require more mentoring and funding, while established startups will look to benefit from improving their network. This is why, most often, established companies will seek out a corporate incubators list, which includes companies with extended connections in a particular industry.
How can I apply for the best incubators in the world?
Start by coming up with a business idea that fits their selection criteria. Once you build a team of skilled professionals, you can already apply to incubators that support ideation stage startups. Some of the biggest startup incubators take your project from its earliest stage, helping it surpass all difficulties that may come along the way. However, not all do. The best business incubators want to see at least an MVP that has the potential to develop into a life changing product.
What should I look for in a tech startup incubator?
- Its ability to add value to your business and improve your existing network.
- A flat hierarchical system where collaborative effort is praised and encouraged.
- Read upon the best incubators’ startup graduates (Explore their funding and company valuation).
- Search out what type of investors visit their demo days. Would these investors have an interest in your company?
- Many of the supposedly best startup incubators offer mentoring and training. But not many founders explore (beforehand) if this information will actually help their startup scale. Once again, it might be best to talk with graduates.
- If the incubator takes company equity, do they share your values? If not, you need to consider how this would reflect on your company’s performance down the road.
While incubators are not necessary for the success of your startup, they can offer several "shortcuts". Whether it is for the funding stages, the powerful connections, or the money-saving opportunities, you can't overlook the importance of a reliable partner.
However, some incubators are not free, and most of them limit the team to a certain location. In some cases, incubators may even take a part of your company's equity in exchange for their services.
If you believe that an incubation program could benefit your growth trajectory, don't wait too long. Pick one of the best incubators for startups, perform additional research, and make sure you contact the organization privately to find out more.
Frequently Asked Questions
For more in-depth information on the best incubators for startups, check the Q&A section below.
How do business incubators make money?
Before we answer this question, it is important to distinguish government-funded (non-profit) incubators from privately owned facilities that demand an equity stake in the companies they assist.
- The former will only make money through donations and government funds. As such they will usually support a smaller number of early-stage companies at any given time. It is only rarely that they will receive an equity percentage.
- The later makes money when their startups have a successful exit. When a startup is sold, the incubator will earn money equal to the % of equity that they hold. The successful number of exists is one of the factors that determine the best incubators for startups.
Who is responsible for incubator management?
There is usually an incubator manager that is responsible for the daily operations of the facility. Aside from that and depending on the incubator, there may be additional employees that take care of business relations, event planning, and mentorship sessions.
What is the difference between incubators and free co-working spaces?
Free coworking spaces are facilities that allow founders and entrepreneurs to work on their projects without the need to pay monthly rent. Incubators, however, offer additional benefits in the form of mentorships, investor connections, and exclusive events.
What do the world's best incubators have in common?
- Assistance with business basics and educational resources.
- Networking opportunities for potential partnerships or team building
- Assistance with (digital) marketing activities
- Definition of the target audience and market research
- Work essentials (office space, monitors, high-speed internet, etc.)
- Help with budgeting and managing finances.
- Business training programs (presentation skills, management skills, business etiquette, etc.)
- Access to potential investors or VCs and links to strategic partners
- Access to an advisory boards and industry-related mentors
- Compliance with current laws with regulatory framework
- Access to bank loans, loan funds and guarantee programs