How to build an application for a startup incubator?

What should be included in an application for an incubator?

There are many support solutions for young entrepreneurs developing their start-up and incubators are attracting more and more leaders, why and how to apply?

You are embarking on the entrepreneurial adventure and you have seen our list of startup incubators  and read our article on the price of incubators  of incubators ? Are you thinking of applying for a job and want to put all the chances on your side ? You’ve come to the right place! Here, we share our tips for a “concrete” application that will hold the attention of your jury.

Why join an incubator?

First of all, let’s quickly go over the advantages of joining an incubator as part of the development of your business creation project.

Incubators are support structures for business creators and start-up managers. They offer a collective or individual work space, coaching, training, and numerous legal, accounting and financial resources, etc. Not to mention that by joining an incubator you become part of a network that offers new opportunities and visibility for your project.

The objective of an incubator is to accompany you from the idea to the project, then to transform this innovative project into a profitable and successful company.

Beyond performance, one of the major problems that young entrepreneurs face is isolation. Isolation can influence the success of a project because if we don’t frequently confront our ideas to outside eyes, we can bury ourselves in beliefs that can have direct consequences on the project and make us lose precious time that costs us dearly.

Moreover, the daily life of an entrepreneur is not always idyllic, we sometimes go through moments of doubt and anxiety, and being able to be in an environment, surrounded by entrepreneurs who understand and live the same difficult moments, is also often a source of support and comfort.

For all these reasons, joining an incubation program can be an enriching option for your business development.

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Zoom on the application form

Multiple selection criteria

If you decide to join an incubator, and once you have made sure that you have selected the right one, in instance the one that corresponds to your location, your sector of activity and your needs and expectations, you will have to go through the important step of submitting your application file.

In general, this application form is provided by the incubator itself, which you must complete, and it includes a certain number of selection criteria on which your jury will base its choice.

Specific criteria: knowing the incubator

Some selection criteria may change from one incubator to another, and that is why it is imperative that you find out about the host structure (values, etc.), without forgetting to take a look at the previous projects that have passed through the incubator to get a better idea of its DNA and what your jury will be sensitive to.

It’s very easy to do this, as all the information you need is usually available on the incubator’s website. The more you know about the structure, its history, the mentors, coaches, etc., the better you can adapt to meet their selection criteria.

Don’t hesitate to call them or contact them directly, so that they can advise you on how to present your project. Some of them, like Manufactory, even offer to do a first reading of your application before your final application, which allows you to have first feedback and to improve your application if needed. Incubators like IncubaGem or Semia offer pre-incubation, 6-month programs, for projects that are not mature enough to apply.

Universal critierias

Beyond the specific criteria, some are universal to any good application.

Indeed, your file must be worked on, prepared, neat and above all coherent. You must be able to:

  • explain your project clearly and precisely,
  • the juridical characteristics of the company,
  • the market you are targeting,
  • your future partners,
  • the team and the human resources needs,
  • your competitive advantage,
  • the innovative character of your creation project,
  • your marketing plan to reach your target,
    your financing needs,
  • a macro planning of the project over two or three years with your short and medium term development perspectives,
  • but also your perspective on possible threats or difficulties,
  • without forgetting your expectations from your incubation program.

Don’t get lost in explanations or arguments, be concrete and highlight your Maturity to show that you are capable of moving from the idea to the project. Don’t hesitate to emphasize the originality or innovation of your services or products because incubators are very sensitive to this aspect of the projects they are presented with. You must guarantee that your project will have a real added value on the market in your sector of activity.

The business plan

To sum up, you will have to present a business plan. But what is a good business plan?

1- Make it happen

First of all, it’s a business plan that speaks the same language as its interlocutor. This is what we explained earlier, about the importance of immersing yourself in the DNA of the incubator, to be able to reach them and appeal to them, to make them remember you, after having read dozens or hundreds of files. The business plan must reflect who you are, your qualities, your skills, your resources and how you will mobilize them to develop your business project.

Some incubators will impose a format for your application, but if you have a free choice, we advise you to try to be creative and, above all, concrete (yes, we’ve already said that), i.e. concise.

The objective is to be able to communicate a maximum of information in a minimum of words, so that your reader doesn’t get impatient and decide to skip a few lines, at the risk of missing the real essential information.

When you will be writing your file, systematically put yourself in the shoes of your reader, who knows nothing about you or your project, and make it as easy as possible for them to read and understand.

  1. Don’t hesitate to have someone new re-read it, perhaps your mother or a friend, before submitting your application, to ensure that everything is accessible and understandable to your future reader.
  2. Make the parts clear and have a clean visual, avoiding the hundred line paving stones that put off in advance.
  3. Integrate the different parts mentioned above so that they flow logically and do not hesitate to illustrate certain technical statements with images or diagrams.

You don’t want your reader to finish reading your file and feel like they missed out on essential information because they weren’t able to understand it. You wouldn’t want to make your jury feel silly, would you?

2- Demonstrate

But the most important thing to remember about a business plan is that its main objective is to demonstrate the feasibility of your project. In concrete terms, will your business generate enough revenue, profits, and how?

This is why you will certainly have to go through a financial simulation of the project, usually over two or three years. Do not make promises about unattainable numbers, show your pragmatism and your knowledge of the market, be realistic and justify your choices.

Don’t hesitate to work on different scenarios, but not too many either, so that you can show your ability to step back and master the subject. Some incubators will even require you to do full feasibility studies (or market studies), so be prepared for this eventuality so that you can anticipate the time needed and not miss the deadline for submitting applications.

3- Persuade

Even without an annex, writing your application will take time, so be prepared and leave yourself some room to write, re-read, modify, re-read and re-read your application.

The final product should be the best version of several hours of work. Maybe you will have 10 or 25 pages, the quantity does not matter as long as the quality of your presentations and arguments are there. Do we need to remind you that spelling mistakes are a real torture for your readers and do not give the best first impression ?

Put all your talent, all your knowledge, all your resources, all your energy into it and constantly question yourself what you are saying (who, what, how, why, how much…). Emphasize your strengths and your ability to put your ideas into action.

Be persuasive, you must convince them of the interest of your project, sell it, arouse their curiosity so that the jury wants to know more. They want to know who you are, why you are developing this project and how you are going to make it a profitable business, answer these three questions and you will have their attention.

Calls for projects

There is also another way to join incubators or accelerators : calls for proposals.

Indeed, some incubators recruit entrepreneurs and project leaders who meet specific criteria (fund raising, seniority, sector of activity, number of employees, etc.), to join internal programs. This allows companies to develop their notoriety, visibility and credibility. It is also an opportunity to generate revenue or unlock new resources.

Incubators communicate offers that mention the deadline for submitting the application, the profile of the entrepreneur sought, the endowment (coaching, training, remuneration, access to equipment, access to a workspace, location at an event, workshops led by experts, etc.) and the location.


You can find the list of calls for projects on : https://business.lesechos.fr/entrepreneurs/aides-reseaux/start-up-entrepreneurs-concours-appels-a-projets-et-a-candidatures-211148.php

Many of the calls for projects are based on ecological or social development themes, or for startups that respond to technological or industrial issues. But in the end, there is something for everyone: textile, food processing, health, security, hotel/restaurant, urban planning, and many others to delight all entrepreneurs everywhere in France, in Paris, Lyon, Lille, Toulouse, and in Europe. But beware, if you want to apply you’ll have to hurry because the 2020 applications close at the end of June or beginning of July.

Calls for projects are very attractive but they are not for everyone. Sometimes the selection criteria and project specifications are so specific that you don’t even check a box. And, even when you fit their criteria, you may not be ready to move to the other side of France.

Moreover, the calls for projects are essentially suitable for rather mature startups, more or less developed already. If you are in a very early stage of your project, at the ideation and conceptualization stage, the calls for proposals will surely be too precise and advanced to be consistent with your level of development.

You will be lucky if you come across a call for projects, close to your home, for which you meet the selection criteria and which is coherent with your stage of development, but you can always find inspiration and see it as a strategic watch of what is being done in your sector and what interests investors. Be open and optimistic, but don’t waste time applying to a call for projects that is not in line with you, your life, your ideas, your desires, and your project.

If you wish to apply for a call for projects, you will have to fill in an application form. The principle remains the same: concretize, demonstrate, persuade. To do this, you must learn about the offer in detail in order to adapt your presentation to the best of your ability and argue that you meet their expectations.

When applying for a job, which is mostly done online, you will be asked to include various documents in your file, but don’t hesitate to contact them directly to find out what additional documents could make the difference and support your application.

Detail concrete examples of your achievements and give references from your previous clients. Remember that they will choose the best one, there is usually only one spot, so put forward everything that makes you stand out.

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