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America's Top 7 Startup Accelerators and What Makes Each Unique

No two accelerators is the same. Finding the right one for your company is among your first important decisions.
America's Top 7 Startup Accelerators and What Makes Each Unique
Image credit: Techstars

Startup accelerators have been a critical component in the creation of thousands of startups, including such familiar names as Airbnb, Twitch, Stripe, Dropbox, Twilio, Simple, Pluto TV and ClassPass.

These startup-creation machines provide some combination of education, capital, co-working space, product-development support and access to a strong support network. They enable companies that are ready for venture capital to quickly get up to steam.

It should come as no surprise that the startup accelerator industry has been taking the world by storm in the last decade. From 2008 to 2014, the number of US-based accelerators increased by 50 percent each year, and things don’t seem to be slowing down. The US remains No. 1 on the list of startups aided, but the trend is global.

What are the top accelerators in the United States, and what sets them apart from the rest? Let’s take a look at the cream of the crop.

1. Y Combinator (1,464 Startups Served)

Y Combinator was born in 2005 in Mountain View, California. Their team is made up of 60 employees, and they have proudly helped 1,464 startups, including unicorns like Airbnb and Stripe.

Y Combinator remains the largest (and best) accelerator in the nation, and they have an unparalleled global reputation in the tech world. The traits that set them apart are their incredible mentorship and capital network.

The community at Y Combinator is active: they host office hours that give founders quality, one-on-one attention with their mentors. There is no limit to how many meetings one can have with a mentor, giving founders access to as much assistance as they need. And the help doesn’t stop just because the accelerator program does.

“Y Combinator has a huge alumni network, and there’s a strong ethos of helping out fellow YC founders. So whatever your problem, whether you need beta testers, a place to stay in another city, advice about a browser bug, or a connection to a particular company, there’s a good chance someone in the network can help you.” -- Y Combinator

Related: Thinking of Joining an Incubator? Check Off These 5 Things First.

2. 500 Startups (1,306 Startups Served)

500 Startups, which was founded back in 2010, are neighbors to Y Combinator in Mountain View, California. They have 59 members on their team and have helped 1,306 startups. 500 Startups is best known for accelerating Twilio, which has a market cap of more than $2.5 billion.

500 Startups has a seed program and a series A program for investing, but that’s not all they do. Their team remains passionate about fostering global partnerships, creating valuable startup ecosystems around the world and running educational programs, conferences and events. The thing that sets 500 Startups apart from the rest is their mission for diversity and inclusiveness in the startup world.

They recognize and support the idea that founders come from various backgrounds, genders and nationalities. They even have a special task force that is in charge of increasing the number of female founders they interview for their Seed Program. Additionally, 44.5 percent of their portfolio is made up of racial minorities. As part of their effort to boost less-represented groups, they created the 500 Startups Unity and Inclusion Summit, which was held in cities around the world.

“Diversity is not just a strategy or tactic. It’s who we are.” -- 500 Startups

Related: Top 10 Global Accelerators for Overseas Startups

3. Techstars (1,204 Startups Served)

Techstars came alive in 2006 in the beautiful city of Boulder, Colorado. With 151 team members, they have successfully helped 1,204 companies. Their big win? ClassPass, with almost a $500M valuation.

Techstars is an extensive, worldwide network that provides their clients with a three-month program and a mentorship that is authentic, optimistic and empathetic. Once you’re in the Techstars family, you’re in for life. Techstars wants their members to feel cared for, and to give them the freedom to work in the environment best suited for them. That’s what makes them so unique! They offer 34 location options for their programs, giving these entrepreneurs plenty of choices.

“Our global ecosystem of founders, mentors, investors, and corporate partners work together to create a network of support that lasts throughout your entrepreneurial journey.” -- Techstars

Related: 10 Accelerators Helping Startups Grow to the Next Level

4. MassChallenge (1,211 Startups Served)

MassChallenge, based in Boston, Massachusetts, started in 2010. Their large team of 175 people has helped 1,211 startups and created over 60,000 jobs in the global market, including Boston, Israel, Mexico, Switzerland and the UK. Localytics, their most notable alumnus, has raised almost $60M in venture capital.

What makes this successful accelerator different from the rest? They’re a nonprofit, making MassChallenge unique in this list. Additionally, they hand out over $2 million in equity-free cash prizes each year to help their startups succeed. Now we know why they call themselves the most startup-friendly accelerator on the planet!

“We envision a creative and inspired society in which everyone recognizes that they can define their future and is empowered to maximize their impact. We are obsessed with helping entrepreneurs across any industry. No equity, and not-for-profit.” -- MassChallenge

Related: Why the Number of Accelerators Is Accelerating

5. Plug and Play (462 Startups Served)

Plug and Play was born in Sunnyvale, California, in 2006, and currently has 125 employees. They have successfully helped thousands of startups, nearly 400 of which have their office space in the Plug and Play headquarters building. One of their big wins was LendingClub, which had an IPO and has a market cap of more than $2 billion.

Plug and Play has 22 locations around the world and aims to offer their members the total entrepreneur experience. What makes them so unique is how many startups they invest in each year.

They make seed investments for over 100 startups annually that they select from their space. They never take equity from those who join the program, and they accept startups of any size and at any stage in their development.

"Within the programs, we connect our 180 corporate partners to the startups that are directly impacting their space. These introductions help both parties thrive together through investments, pilots, acquisitions, and mutual growth." -- Plug and Play

Related: 4 Things Startup Leaders Need to Know About Accelerators

6. Coplex (250 Startups Served)

Emerging from the desert of Phoenix, Arizona, and with locations in Seattle and Los Angeles, Coplex has helped create over 250 software startups. With a team of 31, their track record includes LA-based Pluto TV, which recently hit a $140M valuation.

What makes them so unique? They only work with non-coding, subject-matter expert founders to co-create new software companies. The Coplex “lean startup” program is designed for founders who have strong business experience and are looking to start a software company to solve a problem in the space they know best. They start with ideas, take concepts to revenue in as little as 8 weeks and aim to graduate companies ready for an institutional seed investment.

“We will be the platform to enable The New Entrepreneur (non-coder, subject matter expert founders) to start incredible new companies around the world.” -- Coplex

Related: Accelerator vs. Incubator: Which Is Right for You?

7. Dreamit (222 Startups Served)

Founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Dreamit has successfully helped over 300 startups since 2008. SeatGeek is their big win, with around a $200M valuation.

Dreamit is an accelerator and a venture-capital firm that focuses solely on growth to create startups with market-ready products. They provide their members with access to investors, a sales pipeline and many other resources. What makes Dreamit unique, however, are their highly focused programs.

Members can choose between two programs: Dreamit Health and Dreamit UrbanTech. Dreamit Health has established one of the largest tech networks for the health tech industry and offers startups a chance to integrate their products into payers providers  and pharma companies. Dreamit UrbanTech gives startups involved in real estate tech, construction tech, internet of things and other types of urban tech a chance to gain customers and integrate their products.

“Post-seed, pre–Series A startups with early traction are often left with limited resources and funding options. The Dreamit program is completely focused on customer growth and assisting startups as they approach their Series A.” -- Dreamit

Each of the accelerators in this list is unique in their approach to helping startups write their success stories, and they all continue to make the startup world a thriving one.