Top Accelerator Programmes for UK Businesses & Entrepreneurs
31 August 2022
The inception of Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator in 2005 paved the way for future accelerator programmes, having backed the likes of Airbnb, Dropbox and Reddit. And now, here in the UK, accelerator programmes are a key method of growth for many ambitious businesses, from startups to scaleups and beyond. Let’s look at the stats:
In this piece, we explain what an accelerator programme is, and how it can assist entrepreneurs in transforming their ideas into profitable, high-growth companies. Plus, we highlight the top 10 accelerators in the UK, ranked by total number of attendances.
What is a business accelerator programme?
In short, a business accelerator programme provides tools and support to aid in a company’s growth. In this respect, accelerators are comparable to startup incubators, as both can offer offices or co-working spaces, networking opportunities and exclusive events, amongst other services.
But unlike incubators, we believe an accelerator programme should adhere to the following standards to be an accurate predictor of the future growth potential of its participants:
What are the benefits of an accelerator programme?
The world’s most well-known accelerator programmes, like Y Combinator and TechStars, have aided countless successful businesses on their growth journeys. And they have highly competitive application processes as a result: only 1% to 2% of applicants are typically accepted.
In the UK, more than half of unicorn companies had attended an accelerator programme prior to joining the herd. What’s more, the big three UK challenger banks are all accelerated companies, having attended Tech Nation’s Upscale and Future Fifty programmes, the Mayor’s International Business Programme, and Seedcamp, between them. Many of the UK’s other great tech successes have also graduated from such programmes, including Deliveroo, Checkout.com and Improbable.
Why are accelerated companies more likely to scale, raise more funding and achieve higher valuations than their peers? For starters, only the highest-potential businesses are likely to pass the rigorous admissions process required to enter top accelerator programmes. And once in attendance, they can receive all sorts of support, such as advice and mentoring from industry experts, product development workshops, legal counsel and even financial support.
The UK’s top accelerator programmes
Below, we’ve compiled a ranking of the UK’s top 10 accelerator programmes, in order of the number of high-growth companies that have attended to date.
This list demonstrates the full spectrum of bespoke support available, from schemes helping entrepreneurs establish their business plans to late-stage programmes for established companies looking to expand internationally. The majority of top UK accelerators are headquartered in London, though most are accessible to companies from across the country.
Accelerator manager: NatWest
Total attendees: 2,292
Headquartered in Edinburgh, Entrepreneur Accelerator supports startup and scaleup businesses in the UK. The programme is run from multiple hubs across the country. It is the successor to a previous accelerator managed by NatWest, called Entrepreneurial Spark. The accelerator programme is still managed by NatWest in England, Wales and Scotland, and by Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland.
Designed to ensure that businesses get the best possible chance to succeed, entrepreneurs receive free office space, wi-fi, business advice and mentoring from industry experts, bespoke coaching, and access to the bank’s networks and supply chains. More than 80% of businesses on the programme are still operating after two years, while 47% of participants are female entrepreneurs.
High-growth companies have attended Entrepreneur Accelerator an incredible 2,292 times, with 19 having gone on to exit. Its notable high-growth attendees include fintech company Outfund, van removal service Shift, SaaS company CreditSCRIPT and, most recently, CIRCLA.
Mayor's International Business Programme
Accelerator manager: London & Partners
Total attendees: 1,024
The Mayor’s International Business Programme was launched by London & Partners in 2016. It has supported some of the fastest-growing tech companies in London, which are now recognised brands in their fields. To be eligible for the programme, businesses must be London-based scaleups that are looking to expand internationally, employ between 10 and 249 workers, and are generating revenues of at least £1m per year (or the equivalent in funding/a combination of both). They must also demonstrate high-potential scaleup growth, with active projects, domestically or internationally.
The free 12-month programme is individually designed for each business and offers support and guidance for successful international expansion. It provides useful advice and on-the-ground assistance in London and other international markets. A wide range of support services are available, including workshops, events, trade missions, and connections to a sizable network of mentors, alumni, investors, and partners.
The Mayor’s International Business programme has had 1,024 high-growth attendees, of which 95 have successfully exited. It’s helped expand companies into North America, Asia, Europe and Australia. The accelerator boasts a highly impressive list of graduates, with seven reaching unicorn status. This includes the big three challenger banks (Monzo, Starling Bank and Revolut), other major fintechs like Thought Machine and TrueLayer, and edtech company Multiverse.
Business Growth Programme
Accelerator manager: London & Partners
Total attendees: 612
Also managed by London & Partners, the Business Growth Programme is designed to offer growth support to London-based SMEs. The accelerator programme has helped businesses grow their teams, raise money, introduce new products, and improve their management talent. Any UK-registered business, with more than three but fewer than 250 employees, and a turnover of less than £40m can apply.
The free programme focuses on leadership development for founders, CEOs and other C-Suite leaders, with an emphasis on peer-to-peer learning and support. It offers tailored advice and strategic solutions to businesses, including mentoring, workshops, business growth advice and networking opportunities across its London network. After graduating, attendees are given access to the London Leaders Network<—an exclusive membership programme that connects business leaders.
The Business Growth Programme has had an impressive 612 attendances so far, with 17 of its graduates having successfully exited. Notable attendees include insurtech company Marshmallow, electric car subscription platform Onto, and greentech company Plastic Energy.
Accelerator manager: The Accelerator Network
Total attendees: 213
Accelerator Academy focuses on helping the development of seed-stage tech startups. The 12-week programme, now enabled virtually post-pandemic, is for ambitious UK digital entrepreneurs looking to grow their business through training, mentoring and access to fundraising. Delivered by The Accelerator Network, its mentorships cover various topics such as marketing, sales and product development.
In each cohort, 10-12 startups with high-growth potential are selected from the tech, media and telecoms sectors. They are matched with successful exited entrepreneurs for tailored mentoring throughout the duration of the course. The programme ‘market tests’ business ideas and models, to give entrepreneurs the best chance of success and investor readiness.
To date, the London-based accelerator has been attended 213 times, with 11 companies going on to exit. Notable alumni include cleantech company Bio-Bean and holiday tour operator Holibob. Accelerator Academy is the first UK accelerator programme to be invited to join the UK Business Angel Association trade body, reflecting its vital role in connecting high-growth startups to appropriate seed capital.
Accelerator manager: Tech Nation
Total attendees: 211
Tech Nation’s Upscale programme has been helping ambitious tech companies accelerate their growth for the past five years. Each year, 30 scaleups from across the UK join a select cohort of accelerator attendees. They will either have raised a Series A funding round or already be generating more than £1m in revenues and growing by approximately 20% month-on-month.
The Upscale accelerator programme provides 60 hours of support, under the direction of professional scale coaches, over the course of six months. It consists of two intensive off-site meetings that allow participants to form lifelong connections, and five half-days that concentrate on scaling challenges, like hiring talent, gaining leadership, and expanding into new markets.
Based in London, the programme has been attended 211 times so far, with 19 businesses having gone on to exit. The accelerator has an impressive portfolio of scaleup graduates, with its early cohorts featuring the likes of Bloom & Wild and Paddle, whilst its most recent cohort includes leading edtech companies Kortext and Perlego.
Accelerator manager: Tech Nation
Total attendees: 204
Tech Nation also manages Future Fifty, an accelerator programme specifically focused on developing late-stage tech companies. Approximately 25 new technology businesses are selected to join the prestigious programme each year. It was launched in December 2013, to make it easier for the world’s fastest-growing companies to list in the UK and to showcase the UK’s leading late-stage digital businesses.
Companies must meet the following criteria to apply for the program: be at Series B funding stage or higher; generating annual revenues over £5m; achieving 50% year-on-year growth; be based in the UK. So far, high-growth companies have attended the Future Fifty accelerator programme 204 times. And already, 71 graduates have successfully exited the private market. The accelerator boasts a high-profile portfolio of attendees, including Monzo, Cazoo and Form3.
Accelerator manager: Entrepreneur First
Total attendees: 192
The Entrepreneur First accelerator programme puts together ambitious individuals, with the goal of them starting a venture. Over six months, participants accepted onto the programme receive advice on product, customers, investment and entrepreneurship, from a global network of founders, mentors and investors.
Entrepreneur First assists aspiring business owners in finding a co-founder and creating a minimum viable product (MVP). A participant may be eligible for a pre-seed equity investment, in exchange for 10% of their startup, if they’re successful in finding a co-founder. Additionally, participants’ living expenses will be covered while their ideas are tested. Later on, they will have the chance to pitch to early-stage investors, in order to raise money to expand their business.
The accelerator programme has been attended 192 times so far, with 18 of its attendees creating high-growth companies that went on to exit. Notable graduates include insurtech unicorn Tractable, ehealth company Accurx, and AI software venture Magic Pony Technology (which Twitter acquired within two years of it attending the accelerator).
PwC Scale Programmes
Accelerator manager: PwC Scale Programmes
Total attendees: 190
The PwC Scale Programmes focus on scaling ambitious businesses from a broad range of regions and sectors. The accelerator hosts a series of fixed-term programmes, which are specifically tailored for companies approaching Series A or beyond, with validated products, finance and scalability. These accelerator programmes help companies to gain traction, and to source commercial opportunities and investment, through introductions to industry leaders (within PwC and in other large organisations).
Each programme is underpinned by a sales-focused business curriculum. They typically run for 10 weeks, comprising at least three pitching events, where CEOs pitch in front of expert-led communities, the corporate executive network, investor network and senior PwC partner and directors.
PwC Scale Programmes are headquartered in London and have been attended 190 times already. To date, they have successfully accelerated 19 high-growth companies through to an exit event. PwC’s most recent high-growth accelerator cohort included the likes of regtech firm Cognitiv+ and lawtech company Lexsnap. Other notable attendees include Cera, Privitar and Signal AI.
Accelerator manager: Innovate UK
Location: Southampton (operating nationwide)
Total attendees: 127
Innovation-to-Commercialisation of University Research (ICURe) is a nationwide accelerator programme, funded by Innovate UK, in collaboration with SETsquared, NorthbyNorthwest Partnership and Midlands Partnership. The programme is designed to support research teams at UK universities with a commercially-promising business model, helping them to establish whether there’s market demand for their research.
The bootcamp-style programme supports early career researchers to undertake three months of full-time, intense market assessment. It also enables them to have meaningful conversations with at least 100 prospective customers, regulators, suppliers, partners and competitors, to validate the commercial potential of their research. At the end of the programme, teams have a demo day, where they present identified opportunities to a panel of experts for feedback and guidance.
ICURe has been attended 127 times so far, with three of its graduates (Ziylo, Gen3D and GraphicsFuzz) having gone on to exit. One of the accelerator programme’s most recent high-growth attendees is pharmaceutical company Apeikon Therapeutics.
Bethnal Green Ventures
Accelerator manager: Bethnal Green Ventures
Total attendees: 119
The Bethnal Green Ventures accelerator programme supports the creation of new tech companies that tackle social and environmental issues, such as climate change. It selects ventures with the potential to directly impact people and the planet, with teams participating in a 12-week hybrid programme, run online and from offices in London.
To be eligible for the programme, applicants must be an early-stage business (trading for less than 24 months), have the potential to reach £100m enterprise value within 10 years, and be developing innovative applications for technology. They must intend to use their products and services for social or environmental sustainability, and aim to reduce inequality, focusing on those that are underserved and underrepresented.
The accelerator programme has been attended 119 times so far, with previous high-growth attendees including Second Nature, Construct, Lettus Grow, and Scientist collaboration platform The Science Writing Revolution.
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