Your Guide to Startup Incubators in the United States

Dayana Mayfield


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Many entrepreneurs find that they have great ideas, a solid team, and the motivation to build a successful business. And yet, 90 percent of startups fail. The reason? A big contributor is that founders have the tools to create a great company, but they don't know how to use them properly. That's where startup incubators come in. 

A startup incubator runs programs for focusing on collaboration - founders learn how to overcome common mistakes in business, attract investors, hire and train staff, and make valuable connections. At their core, startup incubators grow startups. Think of them like a greenhouse where ideas are nurtured and given the right conditions to fully bloom. 

In the United States there are more than 1,000 startup incubators; some are independently run, while others are backed by governments, investors or corporations. It's important that as a company leader, you recognize what incubators can offer you, and what type is best-suited to your startup. This process can also help you pinpoint what areas you need to prioritize and help you find a corresponding incubator to action your ideas. Here's a quick guide to startup incubators in the U.S:

What startup incubators offer entrepreneurs

Startup incubators support entrepreneurs in their professional journey and facilitate transforming concepts into long-term business models. They do this through a series of workshops, discussions, training programs, and mentorship schemes. Incubators differ in how they format their courses and what knowledge-sharing techniques they use, however, all incubators emphasize a sense of community among entrepreneurs. Especially for first-time founders who may not have the network to make informed decisions, incubators serve as a place to share experiences, research, and best practices among peers. 

Essentially, startup incubators bridge the knowledge gap for entrepreneurs. One survey even found that 43 percent of startups that have participated in incubator programs believe it was significant to their success, while 23 percent say that it was vital to their success.

Top startup incubators for software products

For software products, incubators aid with the purpose, design, and testing phases. One of the biggest perks of incubators for development is that entrepreneurs can gain access to expensive and sophisticated technology. Such equipment is normally too expensive for startups but allows them to experiment with software at the highest level. 

Beyond hardware, incubators can also assist with rebranding and launching new products or services. For example, startups that are struggling due to harsh market conditions can join an incubator program to pivot their wider strategy and construct software that meets new user needs.

Nonetheless, knowing how to choose the right incubator for you and your company can be a little overwhelming, especially if you're new to the startup world. Here's a roundup of the top startup incubators for software products:

NVIDIA Inception program

Based in California, NVIDIA supports startups at every stage in leveraging artificial intelligence for funding and product development. The program includes expertise around going-to-market, deep learning training, GPU adoption, exclusive forum events, and more. Additionally, NVIDIA guides entrepreneurs on hardware and pricing according to your startup needs, as well as access to grants.

Currently, the incubator is working with companies from health, finance, energy, entertainment, and transport sectors. The NVIDIA community expands to over 5,000 members, and premium members get increased marketing advice, as well as a dedicated NVIDIA relationship manager. There are no application or membership fees, nor equity requirements, to join the NVIDIA incubator. 

AI Startup Incubator

Founded in Prague in 2017, AI Startup Incubator gives tailor-made insights about startup projects and challenges. The focus with this incubator is to take startups along a path of growth and eventually to seed and enterprise exits, with a mentality that they call 'smart money'. 

The program takes place over a year, with four significant milestones to reach, and leads to connecting with a real-world investor. Participants work with mentors to devise detailed KPIs and a structured pathway to success via initiation, concentration, piloting, and launching. AI Startup Incubator prides itself on being different to other programs in that it aligns with startups' maturity and vision. So, whether you want to prove an MVP or release a pilot phase to consumers, you have an expert framework to direct you.

Plug and Play Tech Center

Since 2006, Plug and Play Tech Center has been bringing startups, investors, and corporates together. The platform has collectively raised $9 billion for portfolio companies, and contributed to more than 1,400 startups' growth. With a heavy focus on technology, Plug and Play Tech Center helps startups build client pipelines by tapping into the most-cutting edge software. They equally put innovation front-and-center, working alongside government agencies, universities, and other tech incubators to push forward the global startup landscape.

The headquarters are based in the heart of Silicon Valley, but Plug and Play Tech Center also has satellite locations in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas - meaning there is huge potential to scale using the incubators' partners.

Top startup incubators for other business types

Outside of software, there are a range of incubators dedicated to varying startup types and sizes. Naturally, San Francisco is the main hub for many of the programs, as the city's bustling tech space, pool of talent, and aspiring entrepreneurs make it a prime location to fuel upcoming businesses. Here's a roundup of the top startup incubators across industries:

Y Combinator

Y Combinator is one of the oldest incubators established and has propelled companies like  Dropbox, Airbnb, Instacart, Stripe, and Reddit to the heights they're at today. Founded by Paul Graham in 2005, Y Combinator receives over 13,000 startup applications every year, but only selects 200 projects to work with, making it a very exclusive program. To date, the program has helped more than 2,000 startups, working over an intense three-month period to shape and refine business ideas.

The Y Combinator community has 4,000 founders and follows the philosophy that founders should devote time to building products and talking to users. Some of the greatest influence Y Combinator has had is in biotech, finance, education, and retail; however, anyone from any sector is welcome to participate.

Tech Ranch Austin

Recognized as one of the top three social impact incubators in 2015, the programs at Tech Ranch Austin have sustained 6,000 entrepreneurs in over 42 countries. The incubator has proven techniques, exclusive tools and insights, and processes that are committed to developing entrepreneurs and communities as a whole.

From ideation to global expansion, Tech Ranch Austin has a whole host of activities to leverage social capital and cultivate your ecosystem. The program includes discussions around marketing, sales, investment, pitching, messaging, team-building, and leadership.

Fintech Innovation Lab

Fintech Innovation Lab is famous for its highly-competitive 12-week incubator program, helping startups define and test their value proposition alongside some of the world's top fintech services. Entrepreneurs receive mentoring from leading firms and venture capitalists, have meetings with senior figures and users in the financial sector, attend weekly workshops, and can use the on-site workspace. 

The incubator specializes in product feedback, proof-of-concept, procurement, and technology architecture - including emerging trends and technology architecture. The 12 weeks culminate in a Demo Day, where startups pitch their companies to investors, journalists, and executives. Originally developed and launched in New York City, Fintech Innovation Lab now also operates in Hong Kong and London.

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