A business startup incubator and an accelerator might seem like they have the same goal: to get your business off the ground. But if you have the opportunity to join one, it helps to know what these structures can do for your company—as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each option. Here’s what you’ll need to know:

What is a startup incubator?

While a lot of people believe that startup accelerators and incubators are essentially the same thing, there are some distinct differences.

While a startup accelerator tends to work on a predefined frame of time in the early-stages of a business, an incubator is more about setting the conditions through which a startup might thrive. Incubators provide an environment for early-stage startups to develop a minimum viable product (MVP) and foundational business model.

Just like a greenhouse intended to help young plants grow and sustain themselves, the idea behind a business incubator is to create an ideal environment for young businesses. An incubator might work in the same space as other companies within the incubator as it works on its central vision, its business plan, and technical issues like acquiring intellectual property rights.

Here are the pros of using a startup incubator:

Here are some of the cons:

When startup incubators are best suited

A business incubator program tends to be best for those entrepreneurs who want to build lifelong skillsets and learn things they wouldn’t otherwise have access to in an independent environment. They also tend to work for smaller teams that don’t require as much space. For that reason, startup incubators tend to be for those companies that are smaller, more flexible, and have a less-defined timeline for their long-term success.

Top business incubators

Here are some of the top-performing and notable business incubators to be aware of:

What is a startup accelerator?

Startups like Y Combinator tend to work on more defined timelines. The goal here isn’t to create a sustained business environment, but to get your business off the ground—and usually in a hurry. For some business leaders, that means this is more about the numbers of the business and less about developing long-lasting skills as an entrepreneur. Startup accelerators have an application process, and your business must have an MVP to apply.

As with startup incubators, an accelerator tends to mean equity for the venture capitalists as well as access to a larger network of mentors. According to Aaron Harris, a Y Combinator partner, the best accelerators tend to work with incentives and eliminating distractions. With accelerators, it’s less about creating the ideal environment for growth and more about creating the fastest growth possible.

That leads to some obvious benefits:

Here are some potential negatives to watch out for:

When business accelerators are best suited

When is a business accelerator better for your business? Ultimately, it will come down to when results are more important to you than your long-term development as an entrepreneur. You’ll still learn plenty about running a business, of course. You’ll learn how to be an entrepreneur. But you’ll be on someone else’s timeline. This can feel a bit constrained, even if it does sometimes produce better results. And, in some cases, the best business accelerators use incentive programs that help reward you when you do hit each milestone.

Top business accelerators

Here are some of the notable business accelerators to keep an eye on:

Tips for Picking the Right Incubator/Accelerator

Ultimately, the best incubator or accelerator for your business comes down to the specific terms you can expect to get. What are your priorities as an entrepreneur? Are you looking to learn for the long-term, or do you think you have an idea that needs immediate support and tighter deadlines?

You may find that even if you have your heart set on one particular incubator or accelerator, another might offer you terms that make more sense for your business. Try to choose based on these terms—and what the incubator/accelerator can bring to that you need—rather than going in blind.

Alternatives to Incubators and Accelerators

There are ways of boosting your networks and increasing your odds of landing mentors—if you’re willing to put in the work: