How do I Decide what Type of Startup Environment is Best for Me?

Incubator, accelerator, coworking space, innovation lab, and maker space are commonly used but sometimes confusing terms. If you don’t really understand the difference between them, join the club. There are no standard definitions, and there is overlap among them. Which option offers your organization the best chance for success?

What is Incubation? What is a Tech Incubator?

Business incubation is the nurturing of a startup company. Incubators typically provide physical space that the startup occupies, as well as educational/training opportunities, and a collection of experts who can contribute skills in all of the business disciplines needed for success, e.g., finance, sales & marketing, manufacturing, technology development, and so on. A technology incubator is focused on startups in technical markets such as medical devices, optical instruments, wearables, cleantech, software, and biotech. Such incubators are sometimes referred to as “startup incubators”. STI is a tech incubator optimized for medical device and optics development, but is also suitable for many other fields.

Business Incubator Definition

Business incubators tend to offer management training and/or office space for startups. As the name implies, their focus tends to be more on the business side of an enterprise as opposed to the technology side.

Incubator vs. Accelerator

A business accelerator tends to be more in the growth stage of a business, and generally involves a financial component, i.e., the startup receives funding to achieve its early milestones. Like incubators, accelerators typically provide access to expert networks. They may or may not provide physical space for the startup to occupy. STI partners with area accelerators to help tenants with the earliest stages of funding.

Incubator vs. Cowork Space

A cowork space is typically comprised of offices, cubicles, and/or desks, as well as common areas such as meeting spaces, kitchen, and other amenities. Anyone can lease cowork space for short- or long-term use – generally for a certain cost for a certain number of hours/month. Unlike incubators and accelerators, tenants are not necessarily expected to “graduate” from cowork spaces. STI may designate some of its facility as cowork space.

Incubator vs. Maker Space?

A maker space is a bit like a cowork space, but instead of providing things like desks and business know-how, they provide fabrication equipment and know-how. Equipment ranges from machine tools, to 3-D printers, to electronic assembly tools, to sewing machines, to blacksmithing tools. Training in the use of equipment and support of design projects is often offered. Access is generally provided at an hourly rate. STI incorporates maker space into its facilities.

Incubator vs. Innovation Lab?

Innovation Lab generally refers to a facility that is owned by a corporation or institution that is intended to promote the owner’s mission. Funding from the owner is generally provided. Acceptance to the lab tends to be highly competitive. Facilities, services, and amenities vary as much as the missions of the owners.

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