The Incubators’ bannister
A plethora of incubators
: We have a saying in Greece “Ths poutanas to kangelo”. It derives from the days when the US Fleet would come into port and the working girls would gather on the bannister on the quayside to welcome the sailors, each girl flashing her wares in the hope that she’d attract a customer. (definitely a buyers market). In modern times, the saying refers to a crowded, chaotic, confusing space, and while it may be unfair of me to liken the few incubators and accellerators that have emerged recently as working girls, it is a fun metaphor to use, and, for some, I don’t think I’m too far off the mark. It’s getting a little crowded in the incubator space we have several new incubators that have opened recently all trying to attract innovative startups for fun, cause or profit. I say fun because some are doing it simply for kicks, others have a cause (CSR backed) while some do it for profit. All are worthy of our attention.
When we were pitching coLabIgniter to Cosmote we researched the number of incubators out there. Sadly, Im not on that project any more so I can’t tell you about how it will evolve or what it may acheive but back then, we noticed about 40 new incubators a week were being added to the worlds startup ecosystem. By now, there must be many hundreds. Crazy huh? Soon, within our region, we will see this scaling up too. It might get a little ridiculous. Researching this article, I stumbeld upon Incubator in a box– yes, you guessed it. Productised incubation. Do you run an entity that has a wad of cash to blow on the latest trend? Easy. Coining a phrase here (Froyo Incubation)
Well it shouldn’t be easy. Winning is not easy. Building a sustainable model is never easy. You, as a startup need to be careful where you go. Understand if, why and most importantly where you should go. Let’s explore motivations and expectations on both sides, minimum deliverables and demands you should make should you be admitted to one.
Incubator or accellerator? (It’s the same thing just at a different scale and services may differ slightly but both terms are used interchangeably)
Incubators and accellerators are often setup by funds as funnels for their deal flow, they like to have the teams close by, monitoring, helping etc. Cool, but as long as they let you get on with what you need to do then it’s ok. They should intervene where necessary but then again perhaps not. Evolution is a wonderful thing. Those teams that must fail will fail. Smart money? Forget about it. That’s just a phrase some use to indicate they think theyre smarter than other guys. (I heard a very smart guy say that recently) You want smart folks around you but you also want connected folks, doers, motivated, driven folks. Champions. Prize fighters. People to follow, people you wannabe!
Incubators and accellerators can be state run initiatives (these fail most often) Connected? Sometimes – politically at least. Smart? Maybe, Driven? Not likely. Choose wisely.
Some Incubators and accellerators are done for cause. CSR backed incubators for example. Limited value in my view. Limited lifespan too. Ask about what the motivation behind this CSR initiative is. Don’t get me wrong, some are excellent. Others, very poor. Generally, I’d question their motives and join the one that offers the best value to me and society while acheiving their corporate SR objective.
The worst type of accelerator is the Talent Magnet – I wont say more about that. I’ll let you ponder.
Incubators and accellerators exist to help people build sustainable businesses. After all, as Steve Blankthe guru behind SWNext
says, “A startup is a temporary organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.”
You shouldn’t apply to enter a program if your idea is not capable of being that. Don’t waste your time. You should be working on your best idea. You should be solving BIG problems what cater to BIG markets. I should add that you shouldn’t apply to enter a program calling itself an accelerator or incubator if you see they don’t communicate those first principles Steve discusses in the link above. Again, don’t waste your time.
More than just finding a space, a budget and a handful of mentors, an incubator needs a team behind it. A team led by someone who transmits a vision of success, understands lean methods, has the ear of the local and international community and knows how to connect. Connections are everything. I see two fine examples of that operating in Athens right now.
What they expect from you.
- To be at your best
- To work damn hard
- To offer something in return
- Success. i.e. to leave better than you entered
- To offer something in return
What you should do
Understand the deal – what’s in it for them, the mentors, the fund, the company running the CSR.
Question what they will really offer you. For example, they’re going to list a number of highly accomplished mentors that are (available). Are you actually going to spend a significant amount of time with these very busy people? Make sure there enough mentors with expertise in the field that you’re working in as well as mentors who can offer adjacent advice.
Incubation programs are excellent for getting a head start. The experience you’ll gain, the network, the mentoring and possibly a hint at early stage funding are not things you should pass up. My advice. choose carefully. Use your time wisely since its the one thing we can’t recover.