5 UK Incubators and Accelerators Which Founders Should Know About
Launching your own tech company is likely to be one of the most exciting decisions of your life. But the practical implications can, let’s face it, be a bit of a buzzkill.
Brainstorming concepts with co-founders, meeting with potential creative collaborators like designers and programmers – that’s the ‘fun part’ of getting your show on the road. The more nuts-and-bolts considerations, such as how to access the best business support services, get a handle on legal issues, navigate the rapids of venture capital, and generally find your place within the startup ecosystem – this stuff can bring you back down to earth with a bump.
This is where incubators and accelerators can make a real difference. Incubators are intended for startups still in their earliest stages, providing shared workspaces, networking opportunities and mentorship on flexible terms. Accelerators, meanwhile, offer structured programmes for established companies that are looking to develop and scale. Competition is fierce, with accelerators taking in highly select cohorts of startups that are deemed to have sufficient growth potential.
Some of these organisations have taken on an almost mythological aura in our age of cool tech founders and rock star CEOs. See Y Combinator, the fabled accelerator which steered the likes of Airbnb and Dropbox to world-beating success. That said, incubators/accelerators have been around for a very long time, with the oldest one in the UK having formed in 1987.
They also work. In a recent Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy survey on the impact of such organisations, 73% of founders who joined an incubator said it was a significant or even vital factor in their success.
So what are some of the incubators and accelerators that should be on founders’ radars in the UK? Here’s a quick rundown of five that have made strides in the British tech sector.
Anyone looking to feel like they’re plugged into the very heart of UK commerce will probably be pleased by Level 39’s location. Occupying several levels in the iconic One Canada Square skyscraper in London’s Canary Wharf, it’s a bustling workplace for hundreds of companies in the fintech, cybersecurity, AI, gaming and retail tech sectors (to name a few).
As well as being a space for collaboration and mutual support, Level 39 makes mentors available and puts on a sprawling calendar of events, such as seminars and panel discussions on all aspects of scaling a tech startup. One of the most prominent names to come of Level 39 is fintech company Revolut, which made headlines last summer when a mammoth funding round led to a $33 billion valuation.
Hatch takes a socially conscious approach to entrepreneurship, focusing on helping underrepresented founders develop skills and grow businesses that have a positive impact. Over 70% of the founders on their core programmes are women, and 60% are from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds.
The Launchpad programme is designed for those at the very start of their journey, providing sessions that teach how to build a feasible business model and grow your network. Hatch has an incubator and an accelerator, tailored to founders at more advances stages. There are also a range of events and hackathons to spur creative thinking. Among the alumni is edtech startup Xplorealms, which creates educational mobile games, and digital production company Particle6.
Founders Factory boasts that it offers ‘unparalleled access to a global network, influential partners, an expert team and capital’. Which may sound like hyperbole, but isn’t. This is one of the world’s top incubators/accelerators, forged by the people behind Founders Forum, a network of unicorn founders and VC figures.
Fledgling founders who work in fields like fintech, climatetech and household technology can apply for the Venture Studio programme, which gives access to industry experts and potential investment. There’s also a full-fledged accelerator for companies already in operation. An example almnus is Honest Health, creators of a virtual hair loss clinic for men. After being rejected by 186 investors, its founders were helped along by Founders Factory, with the company eventually acquired for an undisclosed sum by US telehealth company Hims & Hers.
Despite its name, The Bakery specialises not in carbohydrates but in corporate innovation. Its Start Programme takes a highly pragmatic approach, linking new entrepreneurs with key industry stakeholders who can reveal what kinds of multi-million-dollar problems are in need of tech solutions. This provides potential founders with a headstart in knowing what targets they should aim for, lowering the risk of following their own flights of fancy that lead nowhere.
Mentors and work facilities are provided as part of the programme. The Bakery also has accelerator and corporate partnership programmes for startups that are looking to either scale their businesses or sell to big corporations. What’s more, the organisation has a ‘Startup-as-a-Service’ programme for companies that want to incubate new ideas within a custom-created startup. This allows big firms to test drive concepts outside of their main infrastructure.
Based in the US, Techstars is one of the most famous accelerators on the planet. Unsurprisingly, its London outpost is a major operation which encompasses all tech verticals. In the distinctive words of its MD, this much sought-after accelerator is seeking ‘founders who are malleable servants to their customers and are in love with their users, not their products.’
In other words, the startups accepted into Techstars London cohorts must be all about providing real solutions to real issues that people care about. As well as receiving capital investment, Techstars startups are provided mentorship, office facilities, and lifetime access to a global network of investors and entrepreneurs. The companies accepted into the 2022 cohort include pet care app Fluffy, and Atom Universe, which has pitched itself as the world’s first ‘Metaverse-as-a-Service’ solution.