Startup Law

Accelerators, incubators, and you

For startup founders trying to get their idea off the ground accelerator and incubator programs can be a big help. 

So what’s the difference between incubators, accelerators and hackathons? 


  • Provide access to cheap working space shared with other startup founders.
  • Enter any time.
  • Unstructured.
  • Generally aimed at very early stage startups. 

Examples: Idealab (US), iLab Incubate (AUS).


  • Competitive application process.
  • Structured program that typically lasts between three and six months.
  • Usually involves equity investment.
  • Graduation usually involves a demo day which showcases startups to the accelerator’s network of potential investors.

Examples: Y Combinator (US), Techstars (US), Startmate (AUS). 

Mashable has a great list of attributes founders should look for in these programs. These include the success rate of past graduates, investor attendance at demo days, and quality of mentors. Another great way of assessing whether or not a program is valuable or not, is by reaching out to past alumni. Founders are very open and willing to help other entrepreneurs, if they’ve had a bad experience, they’ll be sure to let you know.


  • Open to anyone and everyone. Usually involves coders, designers and marketers, along with experts from a particular industry.
  • Lasts between 24 and 48 hours.
  • Has a set theme.
  • Teams demo their creations at the end of the hackathon, often with the chance of prizes or support to develop the product further.

Examples: GovHack (AUS), Unearthed (AUS).

Always read the terms and conditions

Increasingly big corporates are venturing into the startup space, running accelerator, incubator, and hackathon programs which aim to give entrepreneurs a chance to solve problems their businesses face.

Madgwicks intellectual property expert Dudley Kneller says entrepreneurs entering hackathons, accelerator or incubator programs should be wary of signing away anything they create.

“What we worryingly see is a lot of those events encourage businesses to sign waivers to enter the competition and by doing that they agree to assign IP rights to any ideas they create, to the company sponsoring the event,” he says.

“So I’d absolutely say, attend these events, they provide great networking, they disclose some important information that might help your business along, but be careful what you do sign at the end of the day.”