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South Africa’s Top 8 Startup Accelerators & Incubators [2023]

Are you looking for capital and/or mentorship for your startup? South Africa is Africa’s largest startup hub and has many of the continent’s best incubators and accelerators. Beyond funding, South Africa’s startup accelerators also offer founders incredible valuable support for product development, sales and marketing.

Whether you are looking to find a co-founder, build your MVP and/or get the seed money you need to scale up, startup incubators & accelerators are the way to go.

Note: Incubators and accelerators aren’t exactly the same thing though: you might want to check out our article here to understand their differences, and which one is best for you.

In this article we have listed our top 8 startup accelerators in South Africa. So, if you haven’t yet started to apply, here is a good place to start learning about them.

Accelerator vs. Incubator: What’s The Difference?

Using the terms “accelerator” and “incubator” interchangeably is a common mistake. Whilst they are similar and sometimes can be found under the same roof (organisation), they are very different.

Startup Incubators

As the name suggests, startup incubators are tailored more to startups still in their incubation period for their ideas. As such, incubators help startup founders turn their ideas into early working prototype versions of a product or service.

Joining an incubator comes with many perks for early stage businesses. For example, incubators will typically let you use office spaces for twelve months, and in some cases every several years. 

Yet, not all incubators are equal. Some might be specialised on a specific industry, and others on a specific expertise: do you want to work on your Minimal Viable Product (MVP), or are you looking for help to kick-start your sales and marketing efforts?

Therefore, if you’re interested in joining an incubator program, you should first ask for feedback from founders who are currently in the program. You should find out how long they’ve been with the program and what growth they have achieved with its help. 

Incubators are designed to turn business ideas into prototypes
Incubators are designed to turn business ideas into prototypes

Startup Accelerators

In contrast, startup accelerators are ideal for startups that have already gathered some momentum. That’s why startup accelerators are best for startups with a complete cofounding team, a MVP, and that are looking to accelerate their growth (commercialise their product / service). 

Accelerator programs usually take place between a few weeks to a couple of months. In that time, they’ll give you access to their network, connections, knowledge, and a relatively small amount of funding for your startup. 

When looking for an accelerator program, it is crucial to do your research. Identify the program’s list of alumni. Who among their startups experienced success? How many failed? Who are in their list of mentors, and what accomplishments do these people have that you think would help you succeed in your business?

Taking the time to find the best-fit startup accelerator for your business is essential. After all, you’ll be trusting these people to help your business succeed. 

startup accelerator pros and cons
YC’s Demo Day

South Africa’s Top 8 Startup Accelerators & Incubators

Here’s a summary table of the top 8 startup accelerators and incubators in South Africa (in alphabetical order):

Name# startups
(to date)
Accelerator or incubator?Program lengthInvestment sizeSector focus
Akro AccelerateN/AAccelerator + incubator *8 + 12 weeks *Up to ZAR 100kSector agnostic
Cortex Hub12Accelerator + incubator *12 + 12 months *N/ASector agnostic
Founder InstituteN/AAccelerator4 monthsNone **Sector agnostic
I’M IN Accelerator98Accelerator and incubator3 to 10 monthsZAR 1.5 millionBlack women-led tech startups
Innovation Edge36AcceleratorN/AZAR 1 million (in average)EdTech
Launch Lab200+Incubator44 weeksZAR 1 million (in average)Agri, Climate & Health tech
mlab100+Accelerator4 weeksup to ZAR 500kSector agnostic
Savant51IncubatorN/AZAR 50k minimumHardware Tech

* runs an incubation program which follows up with another accelerator program for successful startups

** Founders commit 4% to the Founder Institute Collective (see more on that here)

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1. AKRO Accelerate

south africa's startup accelerators

Backed by the VC fund Imelo Ventures, AKRO Accelerate is one of South Africa’s startup incubators and accelerators that solely focuses on entrepreneurs originating from townships.

Moreover, the program is divided in 2 phases:

  • A 8-week incubation where startups receive mentorship and guidance, at the end of which the 10 most successful startups are selected to take part to the 2nd part of the program
  • A 12-week accelerator program where successful applicants benefit from hands-on support to build their product and prepare for Demo Day.

Eventually, the top 3 most successful startups at Demo Day receive a ZAR 100,000 investment from the accelerator.

2. Cortex Hub

south africa's startup accelerators

Cortex Hub is a recent startup hub based in East London, South Africa.

Each year, it accepts 10-12 early-stage startups that go through a 12-month incubation program. The incubation programs eventually leads up to another 12-month acceleration program for successful entrepreneurs (see infographic below).

As part of the program, Cortex Hub offers startups mentorship, hands-on support, office space as well as early seed funding, although the amount is not publicly disclosed.

3. Founder Institute

south africa's startup accelerators

The Founder Institute is one of the top global pre-seed startup accelerators. Indeed, with offices in over 200 cities and 65 countries worldwide, the Founder Institute has invested in 5,000+ startups to date.

Also, like any of their other chapters worldwide, their South African chapter (fully online) accelerator runs a 4-month program at the end of which graduate founders must commit 4% equity to the Founder Institute Collective (see more on that here).

4. I’M IN Accelerator

south africa's startup accelerators

I’M IN Accelerator is one of South Africa’s first women-led focused startup accelerators. Indeed, they have supported 98 startups in which they invested over ZAR 38 million to date.

Although its name refers to accelerator only, I’M IN Accelerator is also running an incubator. Indeed, they have 2 separate programs:

  • 3-month incubator program (what they call the “Pre-Accelerator”) for black women-led early-stage startups at the idea stage which also offers ZAR 100,000 seed funding in return for 10% equity
  • 10-month accelerator program for investment-ready startups led by black women that are ready to go to market and raise funding from external investors. The program also comes with ZAR 1.5 million funding

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5. Innovation Edge

south africa's startup accelerators

Innovation Edge is South Africa’s leading startup accelerator focused on ventures that tackle young children’s challenges in Africa (age 0 to 6).

The accelerator is at a crossroad between a VC fund and a startup accelerator. Indeed, they are similar to startup accelerators as they run programs whereby they select startups and provide them operational and strategic support.

Yet, they’re also very similar to VC funds as their programs aren’t time limited, and they invest in multiple stages over the lifetime of the businesses.

Innovation Edge has also invested in 36 startups for a total of ZAR 36 million to date ($100k in average).

6. Launch Lab

south africa's startup accelerators

Launch Lab is South Africa’s (and arguably Africa’s) leading university-backed startup incubator.

To date, Launch Lab has incubated over 200 businesses in which it invested more than ZAR 200 million..!

Backed by South Africa’s Stellenbosch University, Launch Lab is a 44-week program that offers entrepreneurs and early stage startups unparalleled access to its research capabilities and alumni.

Yet, the incubator specifically supports only ventures in Agri, Climate & Health tech industries. Projects can be either at idea stage or also post Minimal Viable Product (MVP).

In addition to funding, the incubator also offers funding: in average businesses have secured ZAR 1 million by participating to the program.

7. mlab

south africa's startup accelerators

Founded in 2010, mlab is one of South Africa’s sector-agnostic startup accelerators. Indeed, since its inception, the accelerator has supported over 100 businesses in various industries: from EdTech, AgriTech, Ecommerce and HealthTech.

Their accelerator program runs for 4 months during which founders receive mentorship and support to develop a market-ready product or service.

Moreover, mlab runs its accelerator programs in 3 separate offices: Cape Town, Limpopo and Gauteng. So if you’re interested, make sure to check out their website as the application deadlines and programs are different for each chapter.

In addition to mentorship, businesses also receive funding of up to ZAR 500,000.

8. Savant

south africa's startup accelerators

Savant is both a VC fund and an incubator program for hardware tech startups in South Africa.

To date, they have accelerated 51 startups in various hardware industries. Each business gets a minimum seed funding of ZAR 50,000 at the beginning of the program, and potentially more as they progress.

As an incubator, Savant is looking at entrepreneurs and startups aiming for financial and operational support to validate their Proof-Of-Concept (POC).

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