You have a fantastic idea for a business, but not enough cash or connections to get it off the ground. A startup incubator or accelerator may be the ideal solution. These programs provide initial seed funding (in exchange for an equity share), support, mentoring, and the opportunity to spend several months focused on nothing but your business.
Interested in applying? Here are four of the top programs in the U.S.:
- TechStars. This three-month incubator program offers sessions in Seattle, New York, and Boulder, Colo., coached by founders of successful startups like Foursquare and Get Satisfaction. TechStars is more selective about admission than Ivy League schools, but if you’re accepted, you’ll get $100,000 in convertible debt to put toward your business and services like free web-hosting, legal representation, and PR consulting. TechStars launched Foodzie, Brightkite, and oneforty — and nearly all of its participating companies have received venture capital and/or been acquired. To join their ranks, apply here.
- Y Combinator. This large, well-established program based in Silicon Valley gives the founders of budding tech startups access to some of the brightest minds in the field, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Gmail creator Paul Buchheit. Y Combinator recently partnered with an angel investor to provide a $150,000 convertible debt loan to every new Y Combinator startup. The incubator has helped high-profile companies like Airbnb, Disqus, and Dropbox get their starts. Applications are (technically) closed for the season, but if your application really shines, you may be able to scrape by anyway.
- Excelerate Labs. Excelerate Labs of Chicago invites startup founders to the Windy City for an intensive summer session of mentorship, networking, developing business plans, and learning to pitch to venture capitalists. Excelerate Labs also provides its companies with $25,000 in startup funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. The program is small — just 10 companies are accepted each year — but there are big opportunities nonetheless. Last year, 80 percent of Excelerate’s companies secured outside funding to expand their businesses. If you’re interested in applying, check the site on Feb. 1, 2012, when applications begin for next summer’s session.
- DreamIt Ventures. Based in Philadelphia and New York, DreamIt Ventures offers startups an intensive three-month session that features one-on-one coaching, a weekly speaker session, a collaborative workspace, and ample opportunities to network with other startup founders and potential investors. The experience culminates in Demo Day, during which participants may present their pitches to venture capitalists. DreamIt offers up to $25,000 of seed funding for accepted companies. It also recently partnered with Comcast to launch a Minority Entrepreneur Accelerator Program. The New York sessions take place in the summer; the Philadelphia sessions are hosted in fall. Visit the website for details on how to apply.