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What’s the Difference: Accelerators vs business incubators

Belinda Wan
September 7, 2021

Fast track to success: An accelerator or business incubator can offer startups the support, guidance and mentorship that they need to succeed. Photo credit: Unsplash

No one ever said establishing a startup was easy. Not only do you need complete dedication to your vision, you also need two things: A good business idea and working capital to execute that idea.

Some of the outfits that can help startups with both of these things would be accelerators and business incubators.

Although accelerators and incubators tend to crop up in a conversation related to entrepreneurship and startups (and are sometimes used interchangeably), they aren’t the same.

However, both aim to offer guidance and mentorship to startups.

Now, let’s take a closer look at what both types of companies do to help startups.  


As its name suggests, an accelerator helps a startup to amp up its product or service to improve its growth trajectory.

Sometimes also called seed accelerators, they can be privately or publicly funded. Most of them cover a range of industries. Some accelerators are part of a bigger business corporation, in which case they are called corporate accelerators.

In most cases, accelerators are able to help startups that have already launched their offerings, but require guidance and mentorship so they can go further.

So you should only approach an accelerator if you have at least a minimum viable product (MVP). An MVP is a prototype of a product that has just enough features to allow users to provide feedback for product development purposes.

If that is in place, an accelerator can then proceed to provide educational, technical or financial mentoring and assistance to the startup.

For instance, it could dispense important tips on branding, marketing, management, how to tweak the business model, or how to make the product or service viable to international markets.

The programmes offered by an accelerator typically last for a few months (often three to six months), and usually end with a demo day, during which participating startups make a pitch or presentation to investors.

Sometimes, an accelerator may offer a startup seed funding in exchange for equity.

Business incubators

If you don’t have a complete team yet, an incubator is a great place to meet more people such as developers or talents whom you may eventually want to recruit for your team.

A business incubator is also a great place to start if you don’t have an MVP yet. You can benefit from mentorship and training opportunities that will help you develop a better idea of how you want your ideal product or service to be like.

Some business incubators offer a meeting space, while others hold workshops and give guidance. You can use this time to work on your product or service.

The key thing about an incubator is that it is able to offer an early-stage startup important access to expertise, support, resources and contacts, which may include investors.

Some incubators may provide a coworking space, where other entrepreneurs and startup owners are likely to work and mingle, giving you a higher chance of finding like-minded individuals.

While many business incubators are government funded, some are backed by investors who may be able to offer seed funding to startups in exchange for equity.  

How to get started

A quick search online reveals plenty of Singapore-based accelerators and incubators that aim to help local startups refine their business trajectories and develop an idea with business potential.

Some welcome startups from all sectors, while others focus specifically on fintech, blockchain technology and even agri-tech startups. So which should you choose?

Here are four options to try.

1. Entrepreneur First

Founded in 2011, this “talent investor” has six offices worldwide, including Singapore.

It helps high-potential applicants meet their ideal co-founders – for free. It runs two six-month cohorts per year. Applications for the 4th April, 2022 cohort close on 21st November, 2021.

You can apply whether you have just an idea or already have a team – but only as an individual. Read the frequently asked questions here.

Find out what you need to prepare for your application here. If you are selected, two interviews will be conducted.

The first 14 weeks are devoted to helping you find your co-founder. If you get the green light from the Investment Committee at this stage, S$75,000 will be paid in return for 10% of your company.

After the six months, the best-performing companies as determined by the Investment Committee will receive S$700,000 for 10% of your company.

2. Accelerating Asia

Out of the whopping 500 applications from 30 countries that are accepted here, only 2%, or 10 applications, will make the cut.

The selection process is gruelling – there are 50 Stage 1 interviews with the Accelerating Asia team, and 25 Interviews for Selection Week.

Successful applicants will benefit from a customized 100-day accelerator, get access to a global network and investor connections, alumni support, and most importantly – up to US$250,000 investment, which is given to pre-Series A tech startups through its early-stage venture capital (VC) fund.

If you meet these conditions, you can apply for Cohort 6 when applications open in December 2021. Join the waitlist here.

If your application is successful, you need to pay a non-negotiable programme fee of US$35,000 – payable when you receive the investment from Accelerating Asia. You also have to give up 3% of equity for your startup.

3. Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) Startups

Established in 2003 by the Ministry of Trade & Industry, ACE is the “national voice” for Singapore’s startup ecosystem that aims to to Advocate, Catalyse and Enable.

Its month-long structured mentorship and learning programme called BACECAMP offers early-stage startups with “key insights, best practices and capabilities to start and grow”.

It is free of charge and open to Singapore-based startups that have in-house tech or innovative ideas.

No equity is required, but ACE prefers “businesses with in-house innovation or traction”, and “teams with full-time co-founders and technical talent”.

BACECAMP is conducted through eight full-day sessions every Tuesday and Thursday, from 10am to 1pm, and 2pm to 5pm, subject to changes.

For each cohort, only 12 startups will be chosen. On Pitch Day, eight promising startups will do a pitch to Accredited Mentor Partners (AMPs) and investors in order to qualify for the Startup SG Founder scheme. Find out more here.

The next BACECAMP cohorts are BACECAMP 10 (16th November, 2021 to 9th December, 2021) and BACECAMP 11 (11th January, 2022 to 10th February, 2022).

4. Antler

A global early-stage VC outfit enabling and investing in exceptional entrepreneurs, Antler brings together aspiring entrepreneurs.

As an AMP, it helps startups with their Startup SG Founder grant applications. Find out more about the criteria and application steps here.  

The September intake has started, but you can still apply here.

Antler charges a 10% service fee for successful startup capital grant applications.

Help for the startup community

Startup SG was set up in 2017 to showcase Singapore’s startup community, both here and overseas.

On 17th August 2020, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that up to S$150 million has been set aside to enhance the Startup SG Programme to help startups flourish in Singapore.

The programme comprises two tracks – Train (which involves three-month programmes with Venture Builder and AMPs appointed by Enterprise Singapore), and Start (where entrepreneurs approach any Enterprise Singapore-appointed AMPs with their innovative business ideas).

The AMPs will review the applicants based on the business concept, business model, strength of the management team, and potential market value.

Upon successful application, the AMP will assist the startups with advice, training and networking.

Enterprise Singapore will also provide a $50,000 startup capital grant to the startups. Startups will need to raise and commit a co-matching fund of S$10,000 to the grant.


Both accelerators and business incubators offer startups important access to business resources and contacts – but at different stages of the startup journey.

To fully max out the benefits of an accelerator or incubator, research thoroughly online on the options available, and contact those you are interested in.

Be sure to pick an accelerator or incubator that aligns with your business vision, core values, and product or service.  

The Startup SG site offers a directory where you can find incubators and accelerators, investors, or even individuals.

You can also check out the full range of Startup SG programmes here.

Leading digital loan marketplace Lendingpot connects SMEs to its network of 45 lenders comprising relationship managers from banks, financial institutions, and private and peer-to-peer lenders in Singapore. It aims to help SMEs overcome the information asymmetry problem and lack of transparency prevalent in the SME financing sector by offering SMEs financing options such as business term loans, property loans, revenue-based financing, credit lines, working capital loans, bridging loans, invoice financing, and more.

About the author

Belinda loves thinking about random stuff, and collecting useless bits of facts and trivia. She often roots for the underdog, and believes the world needs more happy endings.

business incubator
Startup SG
Accelerating Asia
Entrepreneur First
Action Community for Entrepreneurship (ACE) Startups

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