Accelerators and incubators are some of the most important organizations in a startup ecosystem. In addition to helping startups fast track their learning process, accelerators and incubators also help them steer clear of mistakes new businesses make, and connect them to appropriate parties that can help them further.

The Important Differences

An incubator is for ideas and early stage startups, whereas an accelerator is an option further along the startup’s life cycle. However, some accelerators can overlap with incubators and function at the idea stage.

Accelerators are usually ‘cohort-based’ programs that have a specific time limit. For an ‘intake’, a number of startups will be chosen and start the acceleration program together for a period of 3 to 6 months. Incubators have a different structure and each startup works at the pace that is suitable for them.

It is recommended that startups join both organizations, but not at the same time, to guarantee a higher chance of success and faster growth.


Incubators will help startups with almost every aspect, saving them a lot of time and energy. For instance, incubators can assist with turning an idea into a business plan, providing training and workshops to ameliorate a startup’s business skills, and connecting startups with industry experts that can aid them in refining their startup idea. Moreover, some incubators provide startups with spaces to gather and work on their ideas.

The common areas where incubators can help are:

  1. Defining objectives and strategic positioning;
  2. Feasibility studies and market research;
  3. Developing a business and marketing plan;
  4. Networking with relevant authorities and educational institutions;
  5. Connections to sources of funding.

These areas above are designed to assist startups in gaining experience and having a mentor from their own industry who has in-depth knowledge of the market they are working in. They provide effective business mentoring and technical assistance for startups that want to develop or expand.

Startups planning to apply to an incubator must know how to sell their startup, prove their idea is worthy, describe how their startup is different from others, and introduce their team highlighting their skills and expertise.

Key Incubators in the MENA region:


Accelerators take startups in batches and provide them with a workspace as well as the training, mentorship, workshops, networking opportunities, and any other support they need. Startups are provided with support in almost the same areas as incubators as well as other areas such as finding product-market fit and pivoting when needed.

While startups can be accelerated at different stages of their journey, accelerators were originally created in the U.S. to accelerate startups with an MVP (minimal viable product) or those positioned at growth stage.

Accelerators take in startups at an earlier stage in MENA, so they function quite differently: it’s common for startups to join an accelerator before reaching growth stage, and even at the idea stage.

There are different types of accelerators, some are governmental or educational initiatives, and others are businesses themselves and can supply funding as seed money. In return, these accelerators take a minority stake of the ownership of your startup.

Every accelerator has its own eligibility criteria, program duration, and performance criteria for a startup to continue in the program and graduate. Moreover, most acceleration programs compel founders to leave their jobs and commit all their time to their startup.

Key accelerators in the MENA region: