Tips for Finding a Quality Business Incubator

When looking for an incubator there are several things you should be asking yourself. All of these initial questions pertain to the future, the past, and the people. Past Success

  • How many successful companies started in this incubator?
  • How long has the incubator been running?
  • Who funds the incubator? Is it a non-profit or government program?
  • Have there been drastic changes in the program lately?
  • What do non-successful companies and partners of the incubator think about it?
  • How long have the successful companies been separate from the incubator?

Your Future: Graduating the Incubator

  • What are the incubator’s exit requirements? Eventually you will grow too large for the incubator. At what point does the incubator require you leave and find a new home? This is usually called Graduation.
  • Is there a lot of leeway or flexibility in the contract, or does it make you feel confined?
  • How long does it usually take for a company to graduate? Incubators usually do not like to keep companies  more than three years, if the incubator has a few companies who linger too long you, the entrepreneur may find the work environment life draining.

Who are These People?

  • Is the work environment one of excitement or death?
  • Is the staff happy and cooperative?
  • How long have they been doing their job?
  • What are their back grounds, how much knowledge do they really have to offer you in your industry?
  • Does the staff spend a lot of time at the incubator? 8 hours or more?
  • Are they or have they been entrepreneurs? Are or were they successful?
  • Do they adhere to the principles of self development in their profession? Do they understand the best practices and keep up to date with them?
  • Do they have successful graduated companies in your industry or a related one?

Do you qualify for the incubation program? Some incubation programs are fairly loose when it comes to letting you in. However, some have strict rules usually pertaining to the industry and resources they have on hand. Incubating a .com without high speed internet access can be troublesome. Starting a investment hedge fund without money connections can devastate the success ratio of the incubator. Many incubators have started to tailor to niche industries. Be sure to do your research on the incubator as effectively as possible, making sure you understand their qualifying policy before you apply. For example, some want a full business plan, which can take months to create. Others offer assistance in creating a business plan and require a simple documented idea.

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Be sure the incubator is a good fit for you. Create a check off list using a spreadsheet program with your resources requirements in the far left column and the incubators you are looking at in the top row. Place an X or a Yes in the boxes where the incubators comply with your resource requirements. Be sure to add intangibles to the list such as knowledge and connections, known today as social networking. A biotechnology incubator will have connections specifically for Biotech manufacturing and Biotech VC funding while a .com incubator will have access to software developers, website servers, free software, and perhaps even computers.

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Further Information There are more than 1,000 incubators in North America; in 1980 there were only 12. While there are more than 4,000 business accelerators world wide it can definitely seem like a daunting task to find the right one. But that’s just it, after you have put so much time and effort into finding the right one, the resource phase of your startup is practically over and your confidence in your company’s future will grow. You will be surprised at what having the right tools and knowing the right people can do for you. I strongly suggest finding a niche incubator instead of a mixed incubator. The National Business Incubation Association did a study of the different types of incubators. Here are their results:

  • 47 percent are “mixed-use,” assisting a range of early-stage companies.
  • 37 percent focus on technology businesses.
  • 7 percent serve manufacturing firms.
  • 6 percent focus on service businesses.
  • 3 percent concentrate on community-revitalization projects or serve niche markets.
  • 44 percent of business incubators draw their clients from urban areas, 31 percent from rural areas and 16 percent from suburban areas. Nearly a tenth (9 percent) of all programs draw clients from outside their region or from outside the United States.

Conclusion In conclusion, remember to do your homework and make sure the incubator is right for you. Be sure to use a systematic approach, like that spread sheet I mentioned, and remember the intangibles can often be the Ace in the incubators deck of cards.

Author Biography :

Bart Gibby, has been a student, and employee of Paul Allen. Read more about Paul Allen at his blog and sign up for Paul’s Be Your Own Boss internet technology start-up business incubator.