School's in Session for Startups

Regardless of their educational background, entrepreneurs who have been on the startup track for some time may find lessons taught in school of hard knocks may be the most relevant for fledgling business owners. They are certainly the most readily available. In order to survive, those engaged in the messy practice of developing a startup must adapt in how they put business theory to practice.

For those who appreciate a tidier analysis of theory and can afford the entrance fee, business school awaits. There certainly are benefits in dissecting case studies in the academic confines. In this environment, students can take a scientific approach towards building business models.

While there are merits to both approaches in understanding business strategies, each focus is limited in the education it can provide. For entrepreneurs desiring guidance from a mentor and the real world, a hybrid of the academic and experiential model has evolved over the past few years. Recognizing a void in the early stages of the startup lifecycle, investors began allocating resources to develop incubators and accelerators. Both provide opportunities for entrepreneurs to create relationships with established mentors while teaching skills that are applicable to those seeking funding; however, there are distinctions between the two.

These are considerations entrepreneurs should keep in mind should they apply to an incubator or accelerator program:

1. Startup Incubators

Those partnering with incubators are introduced to other like-minded folks in the startup community when they move their office to the incubator's central hub. The philosophy behind startup incubators is that entrepreneurs will learn from others as they toil alongside them. Typically, incubators feature open-air working environments, designed to encourage conversation among individuals. Networking with coworkers who may share a similar interest is invaluable to those just joining the startup circuit.

2. Startup Accelerators

For those further along in developing a business strategy, accelerators speed up the startup process. Due to the access that accelerators provide, the acceptance rate for these programs is lower than it is for incubators. Rather than offering leased office space, accelerators are designed as a sort of entrepreneurial boot camp in which participants are connected to a mentor and tutored on designing a business model or pitch. Successful attendees may exit the program with a grant or seed money from a VC.

Whether it is camaraderie or cash that startups are seeking, incubators and accelerators are viable options for developing business acumen and contacts. Regardless of the region, East or West Coast, programs exist and are growing in number.

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