Business incubators (not to be confused with ‘business accelerators’) provide a warm, safe environment for start-ups to grow and develop. They may be privately sponsored or overseen by public institutions, such as universities, but their goal is to provide bulk resources to multiple new businesses. This can include access to much-needed capital funding.
Incubators can be found throughout the world and across the United States—there is even a National Business Incubation Association that provides a directory. They are often industry specific, and the new trend now are virtual incubators. However, if you feel that networking and collaboration may be essential to your business, it is probably best to work on-site.
But young businesses must be cautious in choosing an incubator and decide if one is an appropriate choice to begin with. Biding for incubator space is a competitive, time-consuming process and there’s no guarantee that the incubator will approve your application. However, having a strong business plan may improve your odds.
It is also important to really evaluate how much time the incubator is going to expect from you. They essentially run as a business themselves, so, in many ways, you aren’t your own boss like you thought you were. You may be required to attend workshops and other networking events that cut into your workday or personal life. But the tradeoff is that you will have an opportunity to learn from these events and possibly grow your contact spheres.
Bottom line: Before choosing an incubator, make sure it’s a good fit for you and your business. Don’t necessarily go with the first one you come across—take the time to visit multiple incubators and interview them. Most importantly, don’t let your business become a subsidiary of the incubator itself—always look back to your business plan and never lose track of your original goals and missions.