Accelerate, Incubate or Hub huddle?

We’re helping create a UK-wide Accelerator at the moment which is very exciting. Our client, Dstl, asked a very good question yesterday. Do we have a definition of an Accelerator and how that’s different from a hub or incubator?

People Meeting Communication Technology Digital Tablet Concept

The terms accelerator, incubator, hub are often conflated and also developing rapidly but here’s our attempt at drawing a set of working definitions:


Accelerators are fixed-term, cohort-based programs, that include mentorship and funding and culminate in a pitch. Often centred around a physical location, accelerators can be either privately or publicly funded and unlike incubators, the application process for accelerators is open to anyone, but highly competitive. Corporate accelerators are subsidiaries or programs of larger corporations. (Wikipedia, edited)

  • Tend to be specialist and therefore network-based
  • Mid-late stage including early scaleups
  • Often corporate-run
  • Many offer funding
  • Aka Seed Accelerators/Start-up Accelerators


An Incubator is a business support service with premises, staff and equipment that is made available at low rent to start-ups. Incubators are often university or regionally run and help small new companies to develop by providing services such as management training or office space. (Wikipedia, edited)

  • Tend to be early stage
  • Focus on facilities and general business support, aka co-working facilities
  • Tend to be university or region-run


Hubs are meeting and convening points for a community whose members form an interest group and have a sense of belonging.They are self-organizing and often emerge from groups of like-minded entrepreneurs. They enable innovators, often offering a range of membership options in an environment where members are curated and encouraged to collaborate.

Informed by:

  • Tend to be generalist or based on global interest groups
  • Mid stage
  • Tend to be social enterprises or government run
  • Some funding but more about facilities
  • AKA Labs

I’d be grateful for any feedback on this so we can sharpen up these definitions.


  1. I think the terminology has been used and abused somewhat in recent years and is used somewhat interchangeably so is confusing. But the key difference for me is that an Accelerator is time bound (typically 3-6 months) and does not include a building whereas an Incubator is not so time bound (albeit sometimes there is a 1-2 year window after which you are supposed to graduate/leave) and does include a building. However there are counter-examples to both of those definitions so it’s ambiguous so whatever term you use it’s important to define what you mean by it. And a Hub for me can either be virtual or physical and tends to be more about networking and knowledge sharing, rather than innovation per se i.e. an accelerator or incubator are both explicitly about developing and launching a product or service or business, whereas a Hub isn’t, and is there simply to make new connections. All of this links to the different types of open innovation models that we classified recently here: R

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