Business Incubators in London

Many new businesses do not survive in the long-term. A business incubator provides start-up and early stage business with an opportunity to grow and develop. Businesses that participate in an incubator programme often find the odds for sustainable development and growth improved. They help lay the groundwork necessary to help entrepreneurs make decisions and take steps needed for success and stability. London is home to several leading business incubator programmes that support hundreds of new and developing enterprises in a variety of sectors.

What's a Business Incubator?

A business incubator is designed to nurture new and early stage businesses. Common goals of business incubator programmes include the creation of sustainable businesses as well as viable and marketable products or services. Business incubators provide a range of supports that are meant to promote success and spur business development. They also help get a growing business to a point to profitability and long-term growth. A business incubator can also help with accelerating growth by providing immediate access to tools and supports, particularly for entrepreneurs with business ideas for services and provides with high growth potential, marketability and export potential.

According to UK Business Incubation (UKBI), the main authority on business incubation in the UK, there are approximately 300 business incubators that have directly supported more than 12,000 businesses. Business incubators are created for a number of reasons. Some are established in order to promote and support entrepreneurship and create new businesses. Others emerge to support specific sectors and spur business development in a specific region. Business incubators are also used to assist with community economic development and diversification, including revitalisation efforts. While some incubators may be focused on a specific sector, others offer multi-purpose and mixed-use space to businesses in various sectors. Most business incubators involve a variety of partners, including business organisations, established companies, government, universities and research organisations.

Common Business Incubator Supports

Business incubator programmes provide various support services that help make new and developing businesses viable and sustainable. These supports also help with the development of new products and services. This is achieved by giving entrepreneurs physical space to do business and develop their products or services. Physical space can include office space, laboratories, studios and manufacturing space. Clients typically have access to meeting rooms and breakout space, free Wi-Fi, printing and faxing facilities, presentation and conferencing tools, and other amenities from kitchen space to recreational facilities.

Professional support is also provided with business incubators, including access to advisors that assist with operations, marketing, financial planning and other aspects of business development. Advisors work with entrepreneurs to help them make decisions with respect to business growth and product or service development. These programmes also deliver practical advice through mentorship with established entrepreneurs. A business incubator is also an ideal forum for networking and other relationship building or partnership opportunities with other companies. Incubators are often home to several businesses, which creates an environment where entrepreneurs can learn from each other's experiences. While certain programmes may only feature new or developing businesses, others may also share space with established and successful companies.

Joining a Business Incubator

Most business incubators are open to start-up or early stage businesses. Some may also be available for developing businesses that are exploring an innovative and new product or service. Entrepreneurs must apply to become a client of a business incubator. Business plans are carefully considered and successful applicants must meet milestones identified in these plans when participating in the incubator programme. Competition is typically fierce between businesses because of the potential for significant benefits from participating in a business incubator initiative. Certain incubators may provide grants or other forms of financing to assist businesses. Other may require a stake in the business or membership fees for businesses that are accepted into an incubator programme.

Top Business Incubators in London

London is home to some of the best specialist business incubators in the UK. From incubators for fashion business to help for social enterprise, there are a variety of accelerator and incubator programmes that support local businesses.

There are a range of technology business incubators in London. Many high-tech incubators are found in former industrial areas of the city, including Shoreditch and Clerkenwell. These areas have become centres for high-tech businesses. TechHub is London's largest centre for high-tech business development and is the home of the sprawling Google Campus. Level 39 at Canary Wharf opened in 2013 and serves small businesses that provide technology services to financial institutions. The venture provides space for up to 350 people and is the largest business incubator in Europe. Level 39 provides mentoring and partnership opportunities with the City of London.

In the biotech sector, the London Bioscience Innovation Centre supports 40 biotech companies. Established in 2001 as the first bio-incubator in the UK, it is based close to St. Pancras and is owned by the Royal Veterinary College. The incubator initially supported start-ups developing drug trials, although it is now expanding its reach to clean energy businesses. The Queen Mary BioEnterprises Innovation Centre provides similar support to biotech start-ups, including offering world class chemistry and biology laboratories.

For social enterprises, Hub Westminster offers businesses opportunities to access government partnership opportunities. The incubator is based at a 12,000 square foot site close to Whitehall. It was co-founded by Westminster Council in 2011. Healthbox is one of the accelerator programmes based at Hub Westminster and supports the development of businesses in the health sector. The programme provides seed capital and support over a 12 week period, which concludes with an opportunity for entrepreneurs to present their ideas to hundreds of potential investors.

The Centre for Fashion Enterprise (CFE) is a leading fashion incubator. Part of the London College of Fashion, the CFE was founded in 2007. Fashion industry icons Peter Pilotto, Wendy Malem and Marios Schwab provide advice to aspiring designers focusing on becoming business savvy. The CFE offers a two-year programme. It also provides a one-season programme for labels that a firm business strategy but have secured a London Fashion Week showcase.