Growing Ideas: How Incubators and Accelerators Can Help “Sex Tech” Projects Scale
Welcome to the final installment in our series on raising money for your sexual or reproductive health tech project/company. If you haven’t read the first two yet, check out our blog on learning ‘tech lingo’ and understanding tech philanthropy. Building off those, this piece will explore the world of incubators and accelerators.
As we’ve shared, tech philanthropy funds early-stage ideas. However, if you’re new to the world of tech, you may want to consider incubators and accelerators to help you get from idea to scale. As a whole, incubators and accelerators are programs, usually competitive, that are designed to help companies/ideas get to the next stage of their development. They are run by a team of people who determine the focus, time commitment, and curriculum. Innovators and entrepreneurs who are selected to participate have regular meetings with the team, attend workshops or other educational and capacity-building sessions, have access to mentors, and an opportunity to build relationships with potential funders. But how do you decide which program is right for you?
Incubators are brief programs designed to “incubate” ideas, with the hope of building out a business model for a company or organization. More specifically, they typically focus on helping very early ideas engage in prototyping and early building. They usually do not expect participants to be full time on the project or to be an official company so they only last a few weeks or a few months at most. Finally, incubators often provide significant training on how to develop ideas and a viable business model.
By comparison, accelerators are longer programs that focus on “accelerating” or scaling an existing business or idea. Accelerators are quite varied, but most are looking for ideas that have already shown some kind of traction and need help scaling. Most accelerators are longer than incubators (3-6 months) and expect participants to be full time on their project. As with incubators, participants meet with accelerator staff and attend educational sessions. Since companies at this stage have diverse needs, the curriculum is often more expansive, and may include fundraising, marketing, product development, finances, HR/hiring, and more. Many accelerators offer a small amount of seed funding (for-profit accelerators will usually take equity). You should not apply to an accelerator that requires you to pay in order to participate.
If you’re thinking about applying to an incubator or accelerator, here are some factors to help you determine if you’re a good fit:
- For-profit or non-profit: This is a key factor, especially in accelerators since the support you’ll receive around fundraising will change dramatically depending on whether you’re raising venture capital/bootstrapping or looking for grants and donations. A few accelerators will accept either type of company, but most are only open to one type of structure. If you are a for-profit entity, an accelerator will often ask for equity, so it’s important to think about how much benefit you will receive for giving away part of your company.
- Location: This varies by program so it’s important to pay attention to. Some programs require you to be on-site, where they are located. Others are okay with you traveling to participate, while others are agnostic about location and allow fully remote participation.
- Commitment: As we mentioned above, most accelerators want there to be at least one full-time team member (often more). They want to know you are “all in” before they invest time (and money) into you. Incubators may be more flexible since they are accustomed to working with folks who are developing ideas. If you are not yet full-time, it’s important to look for information about this requirement.
- Mission/solution: Just like tech philanthropy, many programs have a specific focus area or type of solution they are looking to support. You should identify whether their focus area is aligned with yours, or whether you can ‘make the case’ for a connection between your focus area and theirs. For example, an accelerator focused on education could still be a good fit for a sexual health product/innovation if that product is related to sexual health education.
- Stage: Many programs feel they have the most to offer to or are the most effective with companies that are in a particular state of development. They might be looking for companies who are prototyping, have launched, have users, have revenue, are scaling already, etc. Read through the program requirements and be honest about where you are to see if they will be a good fit for you. If your company is too early in development for them, file them away to apply to later.
Incubators and Accelerators can be incredible sources of support and information, especially for first-time founders or those new to the world of technology and product development. We’ve included a list of programs to consider here to get you started.
- BonBillo Boston Impact Accelerator Boston, MA
- Boomtown Health-Tech Accelerator Boulder, CO & Atlanta, GA
- CivicX - Acumen Civic Accelerator New York, NY
- Echoing Green Fellowship New York, NY
- Fast Forward San Francisco, CA
- Fledge Seattle, WA
- Grid110 Los Angeles, CA
- Halycon Incubator Washington, DC
- Headstream Bay Area, CA
- Impact Ventures North Texas
- MassChallenge Boston, MA\
- Propeller New Orleans, LA
- Rally Orlando, FL
- reSET Hartford, CN
- SEED SPOT Washington, DC
- Startup Leadership Program New York, NY
- Solve MIT Cambridge, MA
- The Catalyst program at Blue Ridge Labs by Robinhood New York, NY
- The Global Social Impact House
- United Way Social Innovation Accelerator Dallas, TX
- Village Capital Washington, D.C.
- Visible Connect Denver, CO
- Watson Accelerator Boulder, CO
- Women’s Startup Lab Menlo Park, California
- Y Combinator Silicon Valley, CA