The difference between incubators and accelerators

Ireland has some of the best incubator and accelerator programmes in Europe. They can be a great way to help your business grow, but what’s the difference between them?

Ireland has some great incubators and accelerators, but it’s important to know the difference between the two before you apply to one for support.

Incubators are generally for new companies

Incubators cater to new companies specifically, nurturing the growth of a new business as the name suggests. An incubator typically offers shared office spaces, networking and mentoring opportunities and perhaps some seed capital. Co-working is often a part of the incubator experience, though some offer private office spaces.

“Some incubators provide seed money in exchange for an investment in a start-up (the amount will vary).”

Accelerator programmes are for businesses in growth

Accelerator programmes, on the other hand, are geared towards existing businesses that have the potential to grow. The other critical distinction between accelerators and incubators is that, as well as offering office space and mentorship, accelerators typically provide seed capital in exchange for a share of the business.


Some incubators provide seed money in exchange for an investment in a start-up (the amount will vary). However, prepare for your progress to be monitored. Incubators and accelerators will want you to succeed to get a return on their investment. Such supervision might make some entrepreneurs uncomfortable, but the overall package could be the kick-start your company needs.

Application process

It’s worth noting that competition for a place on one of these programmes can be fierce. The application process for a good accelerator or incubator programme is rigorous. They tend to be very selective about who they let in. 

incubators ireland

Some top Irish incubators


The National Design Research Centre is the leading Irish IT incubator and is considered one of the best of its kind in the world. Its offices are based in the Digital Hub on Crane St. in Dublin, and it currently has four programmes – Catalyser, LaunchPad, VentureLab and Female Founders, each offering different packages to entrepreneurs. 

SouthEast BIC

Based in Waterford, the SouthEast BIC is a public-private partnership that supports new enterprises through project evaluation, business planning and sourcing finance. Its team works right across Waterford, Wexford, Carlow, Kilkenny and Tipperary, and has good European links, previously serving as the Irish partner in the SmartAgriFood European Project. 


Operating out of its state-of-the-art facility on UCD’s Belfield campus, NovaUCD offers mentoring and workspaces to start-ups from a range of disciplines. Participants must be less than three years old, be prepared to work with UCD and they should be operating in a knowledge intensive area.

ARC Labs Waterford

A tech-focused incubator in Waterford, it has ambitious expansion plans. 

Newmarket Kitchen

Where food startups and existing businesses can nurture, grow and expand their businesses. There are quite a few food incubation centres around the country. See Bord Bia’s list of food incubators

For a full list of incubation centres, Enterprise Ireland has published a comprehensive list

start a business in ireland

Some top Irish accelerators

Propeller Venture Accelerator

The Ryan Academy is a collaboration between Dublin City University and the family of Ryanair founder Tony Ryan. Privately funded, the Academy currently offers a range of accelerator programmes, including the award-winning Propeller Venture Accelerator, which provides mentors, development plans and €45k in exchange for 7.5% equity. Aimed at early-stage technology firms, this accelerator is currently ranked seventh in Europe.


Cork’s Sprint Accelerator is the newest addition to Ireland’s accelerator scene, starting in 2016. Set up by University College Cork’s innovation centre GatewayUCC, the programme is aimed at early-stage firms, entrepreneurs and UCC-based researchers. The programme already has its first participants, coming from a diverse range of fields including MedTech, eHealth, nutrition, IT and more.

Enterprise Ireland – Competitive Start

Enterprise Ireland has supports and solutions for businesses at various stages of their development, but its Competitive Start Fund is designed to accelerate the growth of companies at the seed stage of investment. The programme is aimed at businesses that have the potential to succeed in global markets and is designed to help them achieve significant milestones, from prototype building to acquiring venture capital.


Based in UCC, IGNITE helps people “turn their original ideas into innovative products and services”. It accelerates startups. It has a great reputation. 

For a more detailed list of startup and accelerator supports go to StartUp Ireland’s interactive map

Article by Stephen Conmy. Images from Shutterstock.