Top 15 U.S. Startup Accelerators & Incubators Ranked; TechStars, Y Combinator Top Rankings

There are a number of startup accelerator and incubator programs in the United States. We are fans of these programs (not to be confused with pure co-working spaces) as they offer entrepreneurs a way to spend a few months laser focused on a single idea. Through the accelerator or incubator they receive mentoring, guidance and a small amount of funding in return for a small stake in the company. With all the startup accelerator programs popping up across the country we were curious to find out which programs would offer the biggest bang for the time, money and effort spent in the program.

As a part of his field work for the Kauffman Fellows Program (not to be confused with Kauffman Foundation), Aziz Gilani from DFJ Mercury, working in partnership with Tech Cocktail and the Kellogg School of Management, set out to determine the best startup accelerator programs in America and rank them. Assisting in the evaluation effort were Professor Yael Hochberg and MBA Candidate Kelly Quann from Northwestern University. Together there were numerous interviews with VC’s, Angels, and program graduates performed and then the data was aggregated. This is the first high-level published report of the findings – Aziz Gilani will be sharing a more detailed look at the findings in July, so stay tuned.

High-level Methodology
First, a list of startup accelerator programs across the country was compiled. To be part of the report, the programs had to meet a certain criteria. The programs were then ranked using a methodology that was created by the team, made up of three basic components. It weighed 25 percent by qualified financing events (i.e. companies that got funded after completing the program), 50 percent by the success of the companies that came out of an accelerator and finally 25 percent on accelerator program characteristics (i.e. money startups receive, equity accelerator takes, with a bonus for the size of the alumni base). Each accelerator was put through this methodology and then the rankings were generated. Additionally, these rankings were supplemented by interviews with classic VC’s, investors and past accelerator participants to better understand the perception and reputation of the various accelerator programs in the industry.

The Top Fifteen
After compiling that list, we were able to determine the following rankings for the top 15 startup accelerator programs in the United States. TechStars Boulder narrowly edged out Y Combinator for the top spot, so I’d say that if you are looking to jump into an accelerator program, take a look at these two first. We found this interesting because the two programs are very different when it comes to their approaches. TechStars takes a very hands-on approach giving founders a lot of guidance and mentorship, while according to some participants, Y Combinator has a more loose structure offering startup founders access to their strong Silicon Valley mentorship network and full-time advisors. Coming in very close in third and fourth place in the rankings respectively were Excelerate Labs in Chicago only in it’s second year of operation and LaunchBox Digital in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina (formerly based in Washington, D.C.). Taking a solid fifth place was another TechStars program, this time in Boston where there has been a resurgence of tech startup activity. Taking the sixth, seventh and eighth spots in the rankings were KickLabs in San Francisco, TechStars Seattle and Tech Wildcatters based in Dallas, Texas. Dreamit Ventures and The Brandery rounded out the top ten. Ranked 11 through 15 were Capital Factory, NYC SeedStart, BetaSpring, BoomStartup and AlphaLab in that order. Considered but not ranked: I/O Ventures, LaunchHouse, JumpStart Foundry, Momentum, Shotput Ventures, NextStart, Extreme Venture Partners University. The full ranked list of the top 15 seed accelerator programs is listed below.

2011 U.S.A. Startup Accelerator Rankings

2011 U.S.A. Startup Accelerator Rankings

Editor’s Note: The research team’s search for a relevant Venture Capitalist panel for this project required that all members of the panel be investors in startups sourced from accelerators. Although not the intent, the criteria may have insured that some VCs were also investors in the accelerators themselves. This may have impacted some results.

UPDATE: Check out the 2012 Startup Accelerators and Incubator Rankings released on August 22, 2012.

Read more about startup accelerators on Tech.Co

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Written by:
Frank Gruber is the cofounder, CEO and Executive Editor of Tech.Co (formerly Tech Cocktail). He is the author of the book, Startup Mixology, Tech Cocktail’s Guide to Building, Growing, and Celebrating Startup Success. He is also a startup advisor and investor to startups. Find Frank Gruber online and follow him on Twitter at @FrankGruber.
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