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Incubators and accelerators: An updated directory for the UK

Nesta has a long-standing interest in understanding startup support, including methods of incubation and acceleration.

Today, we publish a new study, commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and produced by Nesta with support from the UK Science Parks Association (UKSPA) and Synoptica, an artificial intelligence data provider, which maps the landscape of incubators and accelerators in the UK, identifying where they are located and what sectors they cover.

At the same time, we are also publishing a new directory of incubators and accelerators in the UK. This directory is, we believe, the most comprehensive of its kind for the UK and we hope that it will be a useful tool for both entrepreneurs searching for programmes and facilities to which they can apply, as well as to researchers.

Key findings

  • We identified 205 incubators and 163 accelerators currently active in the UK, considerably more than previously estimated.
  • We estimate that these incubators and accelerators support around 3,450 and 3,660 new businesses per year, respectively, and therefore represent an important component of the startup ecosystem.
  • We estimate that financial support provided by accelerators equates to around £33 million of investment into startups per year.
  • We find that the previous view of accelerators as 'feeder programmes' for incubators no longer hold true: in our study, accelerators reported catering to a similar profile of business stages as incubators, suggesting that accelerators are best seen as alternatives to incubators rather than precursors.
  • We found that the business model of accelerators has also changed: in our Startup Factories report, our definition included the fact that accelerators typically take equity, but we now find that this is much less common than previously reported.
  • We find that corporate-funded programmes are now in the majority, with 51% of programmes receiving finance from this source. Furthermore, this trend for corporate funded accelerators appears to be growing very rapidly. VC funds now account for a small proportion of accelerators.
  • Accelerators are generally less reliant on public funding than incubators, often being financed instead by corporates. All incubators in the North East, along with more than 35% in Wales, Scotland and the West Midlands are entirely public / university funded.
  • While incubators are spread relatively evenly around the UK, more than half of accelerators are currently based in London. However, there appears to be a growing trend of accelerators being set up in other startup hubs such as Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge and Manchester.
  • Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a greater concentration of both incubators and accelerators, relative to the number of new businesses, than most other regions.
  • There is a low number of incubators and accelerators, relative to the number of new businesses, in the real estate and retail sectors, as well as in construction.


Accelerators and incubators continue to grow and develop. This report and accompanying dataset illustrates how these startup support organisations are changing rapidly.

One consequence of the changing space is that our previous definitions may need updating - especially concerning the matter of equity taken.

In relation to geography, the concentration of accelerators in London is not entirely surprising - this is where many companies are headquartered, and where the UK's VC industry is based - but in Nesta's view it risks further exacerbating regional inequalities, and may drive a relocation of (digital) talent towards the capital, hindering the development of clusters elsewhere. This is particularly true given that, in our view, many programmes actually have a limited catchment area - that is, programmes which are in principle open to applicants from across the UK may in practice be relatively local. For this reason, the trend towards new accelerators being launched outside London is welcome, in Nesta's view.

We also note that some Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) seem to contain neither an accelerator nor an incubator. Whether or not this is a problem is unclear - it is possible, for instance, that they are adequately served by neighbouring LEPs - but this may warrant examination.

In relation to growth, the current growth rate of accelerators shows no sign of slowing. We estimate that accelerators already support approximately the same number of firms as incubators - although the type of support offered can vary considerably. If the current rate of growth is maintained, we estaimate that there will be more accelerators than incubators in the UK within the next 18 months or so.

Given this rate of increase, a number of questions emerge. Is this rate sustainable, or are we in an 'accelerator bubble'? Are corporates gaining value from accelerators, or are they simply mimicking competitors? Do some regions of the UK have too many support programmes, or will their presence help stimulate further demand for their services? Do we need a new umbrella organisation to replace the defunct UKBI? Is public money needed to drive more support in certain areas?

This report does not answer these questions, but it does provide a dataset on which to build. The full dataset can be downloaded from the Gov.uk website and we encourage others to interrogate the data further.

If you are involved with an accelerator or incubator and you would like to add or amend some information in the directory, please email [email protected]. Any additions or amendments that Nesta receives until the 12th of June 2017 will be added to the directory. Please note: the report will not be updated.


Christopher Haley

Christopher Haley

Christopher Haley

Head of New Technology & Startup Research

Chris led Nesta's research interests into how startups and new technologies can drive economic growth, and what this means for businesses, intermediaries and for the government.

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Jonathan Bone

Jonathan Bone

Jonathan Bone

Mission Manager, healthy life mission

Jonathan works within Nesta Cymru (Wales), focusing on working across public, private and non-profit sectors to deliver innovative solutions that tackle obesity and loneliness in Wales.

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Olivia Allen

Olivia Allen

Olivia Allen

Intern, Digital Startups Team

Olivia was an intern in the Digital Startups Team.

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