So you have an idea that you think can be a total game changer? If you’re like most startups, you might be found wanting the best business practices, as well as a variety of resources and necessary services required to take you to the next level.
This is where incubator programs come in.
Many entrepreneurs, particularly in the highly-competitive tech world, have turned to incubators to guide them into making the difficult leap from bright idea to well-executed product.
And the numbers don’t lie as, according to a joint study by the University of Michigan and the National Business Incubation Association, 87 percent of incubation graduates are able to stay in business.
But joining an incubator is not as simple as having a promising business idea, or finding a willing program. Apart from the often tedious application process, you have to ensure that your organization is prepared to dive into a full-scale incubation while aligning the entire organization with the endeavor. Here are some tips to help prepare your business for an incubator program
Identify opportunities and challenges
Not all incubator programs are created equal, and as such, it is crucial that you carefully assess a few key aspects: the incubator that you’re eyeing (their stable of mentors, curriculum, alumni, location, etc.), the challenges your organization are currently facing and how the program can help you overcome them, and the additional opportunities for growth afforded by the incubator.
On the other hand, an incubator program can also help your start-up venture into a new sphere, like a new product that can help you boost your revenue stream. For example, if you’re running a juice company, and you want to trek into alcoholic beverages, incubation could very well help you. This, however, requires you to evaluate market demand and the probability of your success.
A thorough assessment of these can help you determine if the incubator program is the right fit for your organization.
Different incubators offer different resources (access to experienced entrepreneurs, human resources talent, etc.) and services (public relations, secretarial, etc.), and require varying costs in exchange for inclusion in the program. Exercising due diligence in this regard, ensures you don’t waste each other’s time and resources.
Anchor the incubation within the organization
It is important that everyone in the organization is onboard with the plan for incubation.
Comprehensively communicating the plan—what the end goal is, what the individual and team roles will be, and what it costs the organization to be part of a program—should be a big part of coming up with the decision to apply to a program.
Effectively and openly communicating your plan for incubation opens a platform for your team to challenge and/or support the incubation program. This will give you a better sense of the potential fit and benefits of joining a program, while also making sure the entire team is prepared for the pivot.
Build a strong team and manage your people effectively
Competition is generally stiff when it comes to the application process for an incubator program, so you’ll have to make sure that you have a strong founding team in place.
As pointed out by Entrepreneur, your brilliant idea won’t matter to business incubators if they sense you have a less than stellar team that’ll be behind the execution of your idea.
If you’re already in the nascent stages of operation, you may have to leave out some of your employees from the incubation program to keep the ship rolling. If this is the case, you should be able to get a good idea of who to include, during the process of communicating the incubation plan to your team.
Those who sense a real opportunity for growth and learning should be at the frontlines of our team. Proactivity goes a long way when you’re set in an environment brimming with the knowledge to be had from a number of mentors and fellow startups.
Once you’ve made your picks, you should also have clearly defined roles and tasks should you find yourself accepted in the incubator program.
As mentioned, there are countless opportunities to learn in an incubator environment, so a team that knows their respective roles at heart will have a better chance of accelerating growth and development. But it is important to note, that exactly because this is a new environment with a plethora of brains to pick, you need to afford your team with much flexibility – something that could be far different from how you used to do things in your own space.
Engage mentors and domain experts
While some may mistakenly think that potential capital funding is the main reason to join incubator programs, the real benefit of becoming part of one is the access to a stable of mentors – seasoned entrepreneurs that can be crucial to defining your organization’s vision, strategic framework, and even what may seem like rudimentary, but equally crucial, tasks like setting up accounting and financial systems.
Apart from the many lessons to be learned from these mentors, another crucial benefit of engaging constantly with them is the access to their vast networks.
Suddenly being opened to the world of possibilities brought by a strong network can change the very definition of what you imagined success to be. Add to this the networks of the other startups in the incubator, and you’d be pleasantly surprised at the suddenly exponential opportunities and possibilities.
Ensure physical space
For a more efficient process, most incubators will require you to allot a physical/office space for the duration of the program.
This will allow your team to have a specific room to have innovation meetings where the magic of incubation can be born. Having a separate space for incubation-related tasks can also prepare your team psychologically for the in-depth discussions, training, planning, and meetings ahead.
Live the process
Being part of an incubator program is a life experience peppered with learning, technical development, networking, and perhaps most importantly, forging social connections.
While your respective journeys towards taking your startups to the next level may be the short term goal, fostering the bonds you make during the length of the program is what you’ll eventually find most valuable.
Making the most of your time amongst kindred spirits means not only taking in all the entrepreneurial, technical, and financial assistance you can get – but absorbing the life lessons brought by being around like-minded people who follow their passions, and forge their own destiny.
Having the opportunity to be part of an incubator program is a huge boost for startups. But merely making it in, doesn’t guarantee success.
Even before your organization gets accepted, making sure that it’s a mutually beneficial partnership by exercising due diligence in finding out the incubator fit, and communicating incubation plans with the entire team, sets you up for the possibility of tremendous growth and development.
Been thinking about applying to an incubator program? It will always be better to prepare ahead!