The due diligence of choosing the right accelerator or incubator for your startup is a process I experienced firsthand when I built my first startup.
As with many other things on that journey, I made mistakes. And I learned the hard way just how important it is to do proper due diligence.
For now, I won’t bother you with the details, if you’re interested in knowing a bit more about that experience you can find it here.
The bottom line is finding a startup incubator or accelerator that’s right for you can be like finding a needle in a haystack. The critical factors to consider to make the right choice can feel endless.
The amount of funding they provide vs. the amount of equity they’ll take.
Profiles of the mentors and the industry they specialise in.
How many startups they’ve funded.
The community around it.
The percentage of startups they accept and the difficulty of the application process itself vs. what they can do for you.
The list goes on.
It’s a time-consuming process that’s all going on while you’re trying to bring your startup vision to life.
So, to make the process a bit quicker for you, I’ve compiled a list of the top 50 startup accelerators and incubators based in the USA.
For the top 10, I’ve added in-depth information that will also help you answer some of the due diligence questions you undoubtedly have.
That way, you can get your applications out of the way and focus on building your startup.
Before that, I wanted to give you a quick overview of the difference between startup incubators and startup accelerators and how they can help you.
If you already have a good idea of that, you can skip straight to the list using the contents section below.
What Are Startup Incubators & Accelerators
Both startup incubators and startup accelerators offer support to early-stage startups and entrepreneurs. There are however some key differences between them.
In short, incubators focus on startups that are in the product development phase and are yet to have a developed business model.
Conversely, accelerators focus on speeding up the growth of a startup that has already built and launched an MVP. Their product is already in the hands of early adopters and they’ve achieved some sort of traction.
How Can Startup Incubators & Accelerators Help You
There are several ways both startup incubators and accelerators can help your startup succeed. Here’s a rundown of the top three:
1. Funding Opportunities
Most incubators and accelerators will offer you seed capital to get your startup to its next milestone. More than that, they will normally be able to offer warm introductions to relevant investors for you.
2. A Startup Environment
Many of the startup incubators and accelerators on this list will also offer you a physical space to set up your business.
And you won’t be alone in that space. You’ll be surrounded by other entrepreneurs who’re also working hard to bring their startups to life.
This allows you to quickly extend your network with a group of founders who are at a similar stage to you.
The last, and perhaps most important, part of the incubator/accelerator process is mentorship.
Startup accelerators and incubators give you access to successful entrepreneurs who’ve been exactly where you are now.
You can learn from their mistakes and successes to help your startup reach its goals faster.
Do you have a brilliant idea that you want to bring to life?
From the product and business reasoning to streamlining your MVP to the most important features, our team of product experts and ex-startup founders can help you bring your vision to life.
The Top 50 Startup Incubators & Accelerators in the USA
As promised, here’s a list of the 50 best startup incubators and accelerators.
They’re ranked based on the support and equity they offer, the number of startups they’ve helped create and the industries they focus on.
The top 10 include in-depth information on both the application process and what you can expect from their programs.
Having applied for several incubators and accelerators in my time, I’ve had a lot of experience with the due diligence process already.
And while some of your questions will be specific to your startup, I wanted to give you the answers to the generic questions in one, easy-to-digest place.
If you’d rather skip straight to the full list, without the in-depth information, click here.
In the interest of full transparency, should you choose to work with one of the incubators listed below, neither I nor Altar receives any money from an affiliate link. The startup incubators were chosen based on the experience of myself, my co-founders and our extended network of entrepreneurs.
1. Y Combinator
Probably the most famous startup accelerator on the list, YCombinator has launched over 4000 startups. Portfolio companies include Stripe, Airbnb, Coinbase and Twitch.
YCombinator will invest $500k when you successfully join their cohort. This payment is made on two separate safes (Simple Agreement for Future Equity):
- $125,000 on a post-money safe in return for 7% of your company
- $375,000 on an uncapped safe with a Most Favored Nation provision.
You can apply to Y Combinator online. Your application will only be considered if you, as the founder, have at least 10% equity in your startup.
Once you’ve completed this process, you and your team will be asked to interview.
If successful, you’ll officially join the YC batch. At the time of writing, Y Combinator still operates remotely due to COVID-19.
However, during the 3-month batch, you’ll still have access to all mentorship, guest speakers, group office hours with other companies on your batch and the famous Demo Day.
While the batch lasts for three months, Y Combinator will continue to offer mentorship and warm introductions for as long as your startup needs it. Not to mention continued access to the YC alumni network.
What Alumni are Saying
“I doubt that Stripe would have worked without the YC accelerator program. It’s that simple. Acquiring early customers, figuring out who to hire, closing deals with banks, raising money – YC’s partners were closely involved and crucially helpful.”
Patrick Collison, Founder, Stripe
Second on the list is TechStars, which has funded over 3500 startups to date. They’re the accelerator behind Uber, Twilio and DigitalOcean – to name but three.
Techstars invest up to $120,000 in each startup. They purchase the right to 6% of the company’s Fully Diluted Capital Stock at the Qualified Financing and provide $20,000 upfront. Their 6% common shares will be issued immediately before the Company’s subsequent equity financing of $250,000 or more. You can find Techstar’s full investment terms here.
You can apply to TechStars using the form on their website. It takes around two to five hours to fill out your first application – you can reach out to their mentors and advisors before submitting for extra help to ensure you’ve portrayed your startup correctly.
If your application passes the screening process, you will receive an invitation to interview with TechStars (this process usually takes around four weeks).
The interview consists of two rounds. Here are some of the questions you can expect during your interview with TechStars:
- If I gave you $200k in cash and said you needed to spend that money on hiring people, who would you hire?
- Who are your (likely) customers?
- What would be your ideal outcome from working with Techstars?
- What are the most important *leading* indicators for your business/product? or What’s your most important KPI this week?
- How did you validate this market, and what is the scope of the market?
By the way…
…If you’re looking for the right process to answer the above questions, check out the first step of our proven framework to bring an MVP to life – written by my CEO and co-founder, Daniel.
If you successfully complete the interview rounds, you’ll be invited to meet TechStars screening committee.
This committee is comprised of the managing director, program manager and other mentors and corporate partners.
If you pass that, you then join a three-month batch of other startups.
In the first month, you’ll focus on growing your network with 100 mentors from the Techstars network. All of whom are experts in their respective fields and have a host of connections that can help you further.
The goal here is to support you and your startup hone in on your product development, market-fit, marketing, technology, hiring, fundraising, company culture and much much more.
In month two, you’ll take everything you learnt from month one and use it to execute your startup vision. Whether thats building the next phase of your product, identifying and achieving KPIs, onboarding early adopters, etc.
In the final month, you’ll focus on telling your story. This is to set you up for fundraising and Demo Day (which takes place at the end of month three). You’ll develop your pitch deck, prepare your investor collateral and learn how to communicate your vision to future customers, team members and other key stakeholders.
TechStars will then continue to give you support via their alumni network.
What Alumni are Saying
“At critical moments throughout our history, somehow someone in the Techstars network pointed us in a direction that led us to where we are today.”
Adam Wilson, Founder, Sphero
3. 500 Startups
With over 2700 startups funded, 500 Startups is another leader in the incubation/acceleration scene.
Their portfolio companies include Udemy, Talkdesk and Canva.
500 Startups offer every company that joins their ranks $150k investment in return for a 6% stake.
500 Startups have a number of accelerator programs across the United States. You can find and apply to the best one for you via their website. Alternatively, you can apply via AngelList.
After filling out the application form, you’re in with a chance of being invited to an interview day.
The day consists of three back-to-back interviews with members of their investment team. They suggest allocating around three hours for this process, but it can be shorter.
The general topics they will cover include:
- How does your startup work?
- What proof do you have that it works?
- Why do you and your team want to be part of 500 startups?
If accepted, the fast-paced program lasts for four months, presentially at the location you applied to. Their mentor team consists of experts with operational experience at companies like PayPal, Google, YouTube, Apple, Twitter and more.
On top of the hands-on mentorship, they offer talks and office hours on everything from distribution and customer acquisition to design, UX and fundraising.
Here’s a quick overview of a typical week at 500 Startups:
- Weekly roundup all-hand meeting
- Direct points of contact with mentors and advisors
- Weekly fireside breakouts and brainstorming sessions
- Weekly talks with founders of successful tech startups
At the end of the four-month program, you’ll take part in a Demo Day in front of investors and industry leaders.
What Alumni are Saying
“500 Startups does a great job of making sure that we have all of the programming and check-ins we need, without overdoing it. Very few events are required, and the ones that are, like the Investment Lead and EIR meetings, are hyper-personalized to our company, so they are incredibly valuable.”
Bethany Stachenfeld, Co-Founder & CEO, Sendspark
MassChallenge has funded over 3000 startups since 2009.
Their portfolio companies are Ginkgo Bioworks, Ginger and Thinx.
While MassChallenge doesn’t offer investment for equity, they offer “zero-equity programs and a competition-based model”.
Meaning, that participating founders and alumni can compete for cash award prizes.
You can apply by creating a founder profile on their website, and submitting an application. Each application is reviewed by MassChallenges international community of judges.
Your application will be seen by at least three judges, and you will receive personalised feedback from each of them.
If you pass this round, you’ll be invited to an interview. In the interview, you’ll pitch to a panel of judges from a range of industries. You’ll receive extensive feedback on these pitches – regardless of if you succeed or not.
The program runs virtually for three months. It consists of three days a week curriculum sessions that include live speakers, workshops, themed roundtables and other events. All focussed on three key elements to help drive your startup to the next level:
- Goal setting
- Access to curated mentors
- Support from a peer network
You can also expect virtual networking and social events, office hours and an additional fourth month of additional opportunities.
The accelerator culminates in a Demo Day to showcase your startup to investors and industry professionals.
What Alumni are Saying
“We applied 3 times before we got accepted, and never gave up. Each time the process of applying (and the feedback we got) help us mold our vision and push to be better.
The support of the MassChallenge team is unparalleled. They really care about you and will open so many doors with their sponsors, and network.
The opportunity to present your work in front of 2,500 people is in itself life-changing.
Adam Alpert, Cofounder of Pangea.app
Based in New Jersey, SOSV has helped bring over 2300 startups to life, with portfolio companies like Roadie, Perfect Day and Motiv.
SOSV offers a range of industry-specific programs including Hard Tech, enterprise solutions, Life Sciences, mobile apps, decentralisation and blockchain technology.
The intensive accelerator programs run from 3-6 months and have an acceptance rate of less than 5%.
They boast an alumni network of over 2,000 founders as well as over 1,000 mentors from across the globe.
For most programs, SOSV provides $150,000 – $250,000 in exchange for equity based on the amount invested.
After you’ve completed a program with SOSV they will not only to continue to work closely with you to support your startup, they also offer continued investment.
They will offer upto 20% of new rounds in subsequent seed and series investment rounds. In 2021 alone, SOSV invested $46M in post-program rounds.
You can apply to the program most relevant to your startup via their website. Their process consists of an application form and subsequent interview before onboarding successful founders.
What Alumni are Saying
“The accelerator breathed life into what was previously just an idea…The team at SOSV truly understands that successful early stage investment is more than just throwing money at an idea – it takes support, advice, and a strong community. We’re lucky to be part of it, and it’s why we are where we are today.”
Ryan Pandya, CEO, Perfect Day
6. Plug and Play Tech Center
Plug and Play Tech Center is a California based accelerator. Founded in 2006, they’ve helped over 1360 startups get to market. Portfolio companies include Dropbox, CourseHero & LendingClub.
Plug and Play typical invest between $50k and $250k in startups ranging from Pre-Seed to Series A. You also have the opportunity to gain up to $1M in follow-up investments from Plug and Play directly.
There is no fixed equity percentage associated with these investments, however, they typically get between 1%-5% of the company depending on the amount invested.
You can apply for their startup accelerator here via an online application. It will be reviewed by their Ventures Team and, if you qualify, you will be contacted to schedule a call.
They offer expertise in a range of industries from Agtech and IoT to Fintech and Enterprise Software. The accelerator gives you access to:
- Venture Capital Funding
- World-class mentors
- Over 500 corporate partners who you can pitch to or ask for advice
- Daily networking events – with over 1300 events across the globe in 2021
- A network of over 300 Venture Capitalists with experience in a range of verticals
- Office space in the heart of Silicon Valley
What Alumni are Saying
“Plug and Play was constantly on the lookout for opportunities helpful to Tenor, and backed Tenor all the way from its earliest financing round up until its acquisition by Google.”
David McIntosh, CEO & Co-Founder, Tenor
7. Innovation Works
Innovation Works is a startup accelerator based in Pennsylvania. To date, they’ve helped bring over 530 startups to life and their portfolio companies include RE2 Robotics, Cognition Therapeutics and Nowait (acquired by Yelp).
Innovation Works offer between $100k and $150k investment in the form of a convertible note depending on your commercialisation plans, required funding and runway needs.
They focus on giving entrepreneurs the tools to quickly build and grow early-stage tech startups. Dealing mainly with the critical aspects of product development and early customer acquisition.
Their philosophy for building a company is: “Engage with your customers early and often in order to find true product-market fit through quick iterations”
The program includes connections to mentors, experts and alumni, weekly programming by industry leaders, office space as well as the investment opportunities above.
You can apply using the contact form on their website.
What Alumni are Saying
Innovation Works brings with it an incredible community of advisors, mentors, and other inspiring founders.
Cassie Guerin, Founder, Miror
8. Alchemist Accelerator
California-based Alchemist Accelerator has helped over 560 startups achieve their goals. Their portfolio companies include Eloquent Labs (Acquired by Square), Prodigy and Utrust.
They typically offer a $25k investment for a 5% equity stake – however depending on the stage of your company they’re willing to negotiate this percentage.
Startups that are part of Alchemist are also eligible for exclusive credits, discounts and deals with strategic partners with a value of over $400k.
They’re application process consists of an online form followed by a committee interview to learn more about your startup.
Alchemist focusses on accelerating the development of seed stage ventures that monetise from enterprise companies and already have an established technical team.
Their network consists of over 3,000 faculty and mentors as well as over 5,500 venture investors.
They offer a six month program with dedicated tracks depending on your industry. The curriculum consists of:
- Individual mentor sessions
- Weekly gatherings to check in with other startups in your cohort to exchange experiences and hurdles.
- Feedback summits focusing on market traction and fundraising
- Expert talks and workshops
- A Demo Day with a global group of investors
- Permanent access to an exclusive network of mentors, investors, customers and alumni.
What Alumni are Saying
“The role that Alchemist played in our particular startup venture was to get us exposed to the business side of things.
We had very little experience about what the components of running the actual sales and marketing and business development side of the company is.
Alchemist actually focuses a fair amount, in both their classes and their mentorship, on precisely this. It was useful to hear a bunch of different perspectives from the meetings and presentations that they gave.
It was especially useful to get one on one mentoring from the various Alchemist mentors that they paired us up with.
Gabor Angeli, Co-Founder & CTO, Eloquent Labs (Acquired by Square)
9. StartX (Stanford)
StartX has brought 332 startups to life, and the accelerator is heavily connected thanks to their partnership with Stanford University.
Their portfolio companies include EdCast, Nearpod and eero (acquired by Amazon).
While they don’t directly invest in your startup, they provide equity-free 1-1 mentorship, educational seminars and access to an entrepreneurial community.
StartX also provides over $1.2M worth of free resources, including office space, legal advice and more.
Not only do they provide you with access to industry-leading mentors and investors, they also provide access to top Stanford talent to handpick for your team.
They also boast access to over 700 customers from their network of companies and founders.
You can apply for StartX here using the online application.
What Alumni are Saying
“Through StartX, I’ve recruited highly qualified talent, and found the management team to be very engaged, deeply devoted and genuinely interested in successful outcomes for its founders.”
Osama Beidier, Co-Founder, Poynt (Aquired by GoDaddy)
Based in California and NewYork, AngelPad, has helped over 180 startups since 2010 – including Postmates, Buffer and AllTrails. They’ve intentionally chosen not to scale, and work with only a few startups in order to stay true to their original mission: to work exclusively with awesome companies that they believe in.
Every six months, they select around 15 teams to work with them for an intensive three-month period.
They offer a $120k investment to each company they work with an additional offer of cloud credits from AWS, Google and Digital Ocean (up to $300k).
During the program, they focus on everything an early-stage startup needs to do to succeed – from finding product-market fit, defining a target market to getting first validation for the company.
This is achieved through a program based on one-to-one mentorship, the cohort community and warm introductions to industry experts and investors.
To apply, head to their homepage. Then, complete the online application, which is followed by an interview. AngelPad is one of the most selective startup accelerators on this list, accepting less than 1% of applicants.
What Alumni are Saying
“Getting into AngelPad was simply one of the most incredible moments of my life and I remember a real feeling of elation.
AngelPad proved to be a significant part of the Buffer journey, and enabled us to get some amazing advisors and investors.”
Joel Gascoigne, Co-Founder & CEO, Buffer
The 50 Best Startup Incubators & Accelerators in the USA
|Company||Location||Founding Date||No. of Investments||Industry Focus|
|1||Y Combinator||California||2005||4366||Software, IT, E-Commerce|
|2||TechStars||Colorado||2006||3570||Software, AI, IT|
|3||500 Startups||California||2010||2770||Software, E-Commerce, Internet|
|4||MassChallenge||Massachusetts||2010||3050||Software, IT, Healthcare|
|5||SOSV||New Jersey||1994||2302||Biotech, Healthcare, Software|
|6||Plug and Play Tech Center||California||2006||1366||Software, AI, IT|
|7||Innovation Works||Pennsylvania||1999||539||Software, IT, Healthcare|
|8||Alchemist Accelerator||California||2012||565||Software, AI, IT|
|9||StartX (Stanford)||California||2009||332||Software, AI, Healthcare|
|10||AngelPad||California, NYC||2010||180||Software, Mobile, SaaS|
|11||Google for Startups||California||2011||95||Software, Mobile Apps|
|12||Village Capital||Distict of Columbia||2009||302||Fintech, Education|
|13||Forum Ventures||New York||2012||312||Software, SaaS, IT|
|14||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||Massachusetts||1861||18||AgTech, Healthcare, Renewable Energy|
|15||Maine Technology Institute||Maine||1999||217||Software, Manufacturing, Healthcare|
|16||Capital Factory||Texas||2009||177||Enterprise Software, SaaS|
|17||Boomtown Accelerators||Colorado||2013||174||Software, IT, Healthcare|
|18||HAX||California||2011||474||Software, Hardware, Robotics|
|19||LAUNCH||California||2011||382||Software, Internet, SaaS|
|20||IndieBio||California||2014||357||BioTech, Healthcare, Medical|
|21||Quake Capital Partners||Texas||2016||166||Software, Healthcare, SaaS|
|22||TechNexus Venture Collaborative||Illinois||2007||153||Software, Audio, Machine Learning|
|23||Starta VC||New York||2011||154||Software, IT, AI|
|24||Obvious Ventures||California||2014||122||Healthcare, AI, Software|
|25||Capital Innovators||Missouri||2011||124||Software, Healthcare, SaaS|
|26||MetaProp||New York||2015||135||Fintech, Real Estate, Software|
|28||Fledge||Washington||2012||88||Consumer Goods, Energy|
|29||Canopy Boulder||Colorado||2014||80||Software, E-commerce|
|31||Elemental Excelerator||Hawaii||2012||67||Software, Renewable Energy|
|32||AlleyCorp||New York||2007||64||Software, Healthcare, Fintech|
|33||NMotion||Nebraska||2013||63||Sports, Food & Beverage Software|
|34||Bienville Capital||New York||2008||62||Fintech|
|35||The FIS Fintech Accelerator||Arkansas||2015||59||Fintech|
|36||Lighthouse Labs RVA||Virginia||2012||54||Healthcare, SaaS|
|37||South Carolina Research Authority||South Carolina||1983||48||Biotech, Healthcare|
|39||Slater Technology Fund||Rhode Island||1997||47||Biotech, Healthcare|
|40||25Madison||New York||2017||41||Food & Beverage Software, Healthcare, E-commerce|
|41||RSE Ventures||New York||2012||38||Sports, Food & Beverage Software|
|42||Z80 Labs Technology Incubator||New York||2012||36||Biotech, Healthcare|
|43||Kairos||New York||2017||35||Fintech, Real Estate|
|44||Launchpeer||South Carolina||2014||31||Social Media Apps|
|48||Future Labs||New York||2009||12||Healthcare, AI|
|49||Capria Ventures||Washington||2015||13||EdTech, E-Commerce|
|50||LAB Ventures||Florida||2016||18||Real Estate, Property Management Tech|
As I mentioned at the start of the article, it’s vital that you perform the right due diligence before signing up to a startup accelerator or incubator.
I hope that the information above has given you the foundations to do that, so you can quickly apply and get your product into the hands of your users.
Just remember it’s vital to weigh the pros and cons of the:
- Funding opportunities vs. equity you give up
- Mentorship they can provide and if it’s related to your vertical
- Network of not just investors and mentors, but also other relevant stakeholders such as potential clients or potential hires.
Good luck and thanks for reading.
Paolo started working in banking in Milan and London. After the financial career, he created a startup and then joined Altar where he mainly deals with business development and fintech projects.