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There seems to be a considerable amount of confusion about the differences between business accelerator and business incubators. Many people use the terms interchangeably, but there are a number of elements that distinguish one from the other. At the same time, there is indeed overlap across incubator and accelerator services, which explains much of the confusion. The aim of this article is to help distinguish the difference between the two.

It is sometimes easier to grasp the differences between two adjacent paradigms by first knowing about the elements they share. For example, incubators and accelerators both prepare companies for growth. I.e. both incubators and accelerators help firms grow by providing guidance and mentorship, but in slightly different ways and, and more importantly at different stages in the life of the business. In order to get this straight, let’s draw an analogy and say that the life of a business is like the life of a human being. There are roughly three major stages of life: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

Like a father to a child, an incubator provides shelter where the child can feel safe and learn how to walk and talk by offering office space, business skills training, and access to financing and professional networks. The incubator nurtures the business throughout the start-up phase (childhood) and provides all the necessary tools and advice for the business to stand on its own feet.

However, while learning to stand on its own is a great entrepreneurial achievement, the walk through adolescence is often wobbly and filled with challenges, and the need for guidance is far from over. As any parent knows, guiding a teenager through adolescence is perhaps the most trying period in that person’s life, as the adolescent gains a sense of self and identity. One major challenge facing most companies who operate on the verge between childhood and adolescence is that eventually, they are stuck in the trenches of day-to-day operations, and more often than not fail to incorporate long-term strategic planning in the development of the business. The company may lose track of its unique value proposition – its identity – during this phase.

It is at this critical point in the business life cycle that most incubator programs end, as the firm is technically ready to spread its wings. Nonetheless, the journey towards sustained growth is far from over. Often it becomes necessary to receive advice and guidance from a business accelerator. By means of acceleration services, often in the form of “acceleration programs”, business accelerators help companies get through adolescence and prepare them to enter adulthood, providing them with strong arms and legs, sound values and a clear mind-set (strategy) for the future. In other words, while incubators help companies stand and walk, accelerators teach companies to run.

Incubator programs last for varying durations and include several forms of mentorship and support, and nurture the business for the time it takes for it to get on its feet, sometimes for many years. On the other hand, a business acceleration program usually lasts between 3-6 months. The emphasis of the business accelerator is on rapid growth, and to sort out all organizational, operational, and strategic difficulties that might be facing the business. It can be understood as a holistic business advisory service, often bearing strong resemblance to traditional management consulting practices, but adjusted to fit small and medium sized organizations.

It is important to note that, compared to people; companies don’t grow by the tides of time per se, but by means of expanding their markets. An established company can still be stuck in the trenches of operations, or face other obstacles in accelerating their business. Hence, be it a young or established company, business accelerators can step in and straighten out the journey towards adulthood.

Both incubators and accelerators are important resources to ensure the growth of firms, be it from early startup or in becoming established organizations. And as we all know, the growth of firms is the lifeblood of any economy.

Many entrepreneurs wish for a financial shot in the arm early on when they work full-time, trying to build their business in their spare time. Business accelerator programmes can solve this problem and offer an opportunity to work in a community of like-minded entrepreneurs, as well as the time to focus on developing their product without worrying about bills. It’s no wonder startups are queuing up to get in.

The Innovation Hub (South Africa)

The Innovation Hub’s status as Africa’s first internationally accredited Science and Technology Park. It is a subsidiary of the Gauteng Growth and Development Agency, an agency of the Gauteng Department of Economic Development.

The Innovation Hub covers several key sectors including IT, Biosciences, Green Technologies and Industrials.

The organization is home to 47 businesses. These are made up of fledgling companies who utilize the Innovation Hub’s Business Incubator Program, including access to complimentary Wi-Fi connectivity and mentorship, as well as businesses looking to invest in commercial space to benefit by being part of a networked community of peers.

The Innovation Hub is behind the launch of groundbreaking initiatives including the Gauteng Accelerator Programme, an initiative designed to build entrepreneurial skills in the biosciences sector.

It also breathed life into the Open Innovation Solution Exchange, a web-based platform that connects innovators with solution seekers to tackle service delivery in government and increase competitiveness in the private sector.

Botswana Innovation Hub  (Botswana)

Established in 2006, The Botswana Innovation Hub is focused on key sectors including ICT, biotech, energy and environment, as well as mining. The Hub came about as a result of the realization of the Botswana Excellence Strategy, which had as its foundation a national strategy for diversification of the country’s economy, job creation, and the pursuit of a knowledge-based economy.

Several companies and partners have registered with the Botswana Innovation Hub, including Southern Mapping Company Botswana (Pty) Ltd., the University of Botswana, as well as a citizen-owned startup company called Kaelekae, focused on the provision of mobile phone-based platforms for social networking and marketing.

A board of directors, chaired by Mr. Daniel Neo, runs this Hub.

AfriLabs (online networked)

This network organization was established in 2010 to promote the growth and development of Africa’s technology sector.

This community is behind the successful implementation of the Apps4Africa competition and is also credited with the establishment of Hive Colab as the leading open collaboration space in Kampala, Uganda.

Hivos, an international development organization, is listed as a partner of AfriLabs.

At present the AfriLabs network comprises 14 hubs and labs across Africa.

BongoHive (Zambia)

Lusaka-based BongoHive is a technology and Innovation Hub set up in May 2011, established to provide an area for the local tech community to network and engage each other.

BongoHive has collaborated with a social media management and content creation agency called C1RCA1964 to facilitate and advertise the relevance of Tweet Up Fundraiser. This initiative aimed at grouping online resources and people to help raise funds for important causes, including HIV prevention.

It is also home to Bantu Babel, an African language translation app, developed by Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon, the Peace Corp Innovation Challenge hackathon held at BongoHive in December 2012.

According to its website, its activity is focused on three key aspects including innovation, creativity and sustainability.

Membership is free, however members must agree to specific development methods used at Lusaka’s Innovation Hub.

Co-Creation Hub (Nigeria)

Described as a social innovation Centre, the Co-Creation Hub is focused on the strategic use of social capital and technology to boost Nigeria’s economy.

Bosun Tijani is the Hub’s CEO and co-founder. He leads a team of specialists in the rollout of programmes including Tech-In Series, Developers Parapo and the Nokia-CcHUB Growth Academy.

Seedstars Lagos, part of a global initiative launched by Swiss company, Seedstars SA, is hosted by CcHUB and is focused on identifying the best start-up in fast-growing areas.

Ideas and skills application seems to be a core focus of CcHUB, which, as its website proclaims, has been covered in the media for the desire to house “Nigeria’s next great idea”.

Ebene Cyber-City (Mauritius)

The Ebene Cyber-City is an established technology and business focused community within Ebene City, 15 km south of the capital Port Louis.

The Cyber-City features the Ebene Cyber Tower 1, a twelve-story commercial building and represents a core component of the government’s plan to develop ICT.

Cyber-City falls under the Business Parks of Mauritius Ltd. (BPML Group), a government-owned infrastructure development company. One of the objectives of the BPML is to cement the country’s status as a regional centre for excellence for ICT outsourcing.

The technology-focused region has also hosted a job fair in 2012, the Cyber Tower Job Fair.

i-Hub (Kenya)                    

According to Wikipedia, i-Hub has been called the “unofficial headquarters of Kenya’s tech movement”

It is also described on its website as “part vector for investors and VCs and part incubator” and there is emphasis on its role as an open space for the country’s tech community, with particular reference to providing startups and entrepreneurs access to VCs, seed funders and local businesses.

i-Hub states that it has 10596 members and 152 companies on board, many of who are positioned within Kenya’s developer community.

The initiative is reported to have supported the creation of the mobile phone service M-Farm, designed to empower farmers with real-time information.

Its partners include Intel, Google, Samsung, amongst others.

Outbox Hub (Uganda)  

Defined on its website as a “technology incubation, collaboration space and innovation hub”, The Outbox Hub features Google for Entrepreneurs as a sponsor and is focused on supporting the establishment of mobile and web businesses, steering entrepreneurship through incubation and acceleration.

It is targeted at developers, designers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and investors, and provides mentorship, network and investor sourcing, as well as access to professional services.

Startup companies within the Outbox community include Kola Studios (developer and publisher of Social Mobile games for the web, smartphone and tablet devices), CodeSync (a developing one-stop music store for African musicians) and Beyonic (software development and consultancy firm).

iLab (Liberia)

iLab Liberia is a non-profit computer laboratory that provides access to technology and IT expertise to benefit the country.

This initiative is focused on information sharing and also host’s tech events and network facility through which tech enthusiasts can engage with each other and ICT professionals.

This Lab was co-founded by John Etherton, the lead technical consultant for iLab Liberia, and Kate Cummings, Executive Director.

There are a host of collaborators affiliated to the iLab, including Google, the Georgia Institute of Technology and UN Volunteers.

IceAddis (Ethiopia)  

Ethiopian university-based innovation hub, incubator and business accelerator IceAddis is based on the idea of combining innovation with collaboration and entrepreneurship.

It has been established to foster collaboration between stakeholders in the country’s developing ICT space, including academia, technology industry, the government and wider private sector.

IceAddis is reported to have more than 500 active members, a community of budding entrepreneurs and developers who leverage off the Hub’s mentorship and training programmes.

For example, a CCTV news report profiled a smartphone app, developed by Yonathan Gosaye, that is aimed at assisting tourists with information about Addis Ababa, events, historic sites and more.

Click on the various links in your country to get help, Africa is ours and we are the future of Africa. How we decide to develop it lies in our power.

Comment and share your views…..

Reference: inc.com, innov8tiv.com, itnewsafrica.com, theguardian.com

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Anthony Ansong

Ceo - Ansong Holdings LLC Co-Founder & Editor Light Magazine Africa Author of Children Book Entrepreneur

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