What is right with business incubation

Responding to Kauffman Foundation Policy Digest – Jasper Welch

Some thoughts on what is right with business incubation…

The recent response by NBIA members to the Kauffman Foundation “Policy Digest” (March 26, 2013), initially started by Mary & Rick from the Colorado Springs Technology Incubator, has evoked a lively discussion among managers and supporters of business incubation in the US.     The robust nature of the NBIA member and follow on discussion since the original April 16th NBIA list serve post, has far exceeded the limited perception and policy proposals put forth by the Kauffman Foundation brief summary of business incubation.  

NBIA has been the leading organization in the U.S. and internationally because of the leadership of those who have thoughtfully provided input on business incubation in the 21st century - namely NBIA members, Board, staff and supporting professionals that have been involved for over 25 years.   Since 1999, I’ve been a member of the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA www.nbia.org) , for 12 years as the Director of the San Juan College Enterprise Center, and more recently as the co-founder of DurangoSpace.   In addition, I had the opportunity of leading NBIA as the President and CEO during our 2013/2014 transition from Athens, OH to Orlando, FL.   So it is will a 15-year perspective that I respectfully disagree with the poorly researched Kauffman Foundation opinions on business incubation.

From my experience and involvement with business incubation and innovation, it has been clear that NBIA and our members are at the forefront of the industry creating the best practices and moving forward and experimenting with the next practices of entrepreneurship support.

Using a combination of targeted resources and “best practices programming”, NBIA members have for 25 years, rolled up their sleeves to work with entrepreneurs and their start-up and emerging companies.  Each day, nationwide and worldwide, our NBIA members are supporting, mentoring and developing programs that are helping over 12,000 start-ups and emerging companies!

Actually, the Kauffman discourse on the old business incubation models are not as effective as originally hoped, isn’t new information.  We all know that the real estate “facility focused” model never really worked well in the first place, and successful business incubation has always been about focusing on our clients- the entrepreneurs!

What’s right about business incubation is evidenced by the examples of successful NBIA members such Mike Freeman, Doug Johnson and their team at Rocky Mountain Innosphere.  Or the excellent example of business incubation lead by Devon Laney and demonstrated by the Innovation Depot in Birmingham, AL.   Or Karl LaPan and the excellent programs being delivered to entrepreneurs at the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center.   This is small sample of the hundreds of additional NBIA members who change the world through business incubation every day.   Since the mid-1980’s NBIA has researched and watched innovations that continue to change how the business incubation model has involved in its creation, programming and methods of delivery in support of thriving entrepreneurs as they grow their enterprises.

Contrary to points made in the KF Policy Digest, research and statistics do validate the fact that incubators are effective in promoting entrepreneurship AND that incubator firms perform better than non-incubator emerging companies.

In my visits to numerous NBIA business incubators, enterprise center, innovation programs over a 15-year period, here is what I’m seeing first hand:

  1. NBIA member business incubators are focused on the entrepreneurs.   
  2. Multiple revenue streams and public/private partnerships are expanding, becoming regional and have increased the NBIA member’s sustained growth and capacity to support entrepreneurs.
  3. Diversity of incubation models continues to expand to meet the needs of entrepreneurs in all industry segments.    From bioscience, to commercial food processing, from software focus to makers spaces, NBIA members are reaching out and across the industry sectors with their business incubators.
  4. Entrepreneurs who have been successful are getting involved in entrepreneurial support and innovation.     And this includes many of our NBIA member professionals who are following their passion to help support and grow entrepreneurs.
  5. Everyone is finally realizing the impact and importance of entrepreneurs, start up companies and emerging businesses.   It is good to see that the rest of the economic development world is finally waking up to the fact it takes a growing company to create a job, as compared to traditional economic development methodology (focused on larger companies). 
  6. The start up ecosystems and communities in many communities, regions, Cities and countries are thriving. And so are the new models and ideas that are coming from these vibrant activities.   Our NBIA members are in the forefront of emerging entrepreneurship support programs and results.

NBIA has always focused on what is right with Business Incubation!  After all, hundreds of NBIA members are demonstrating that business incubation is working for entrepreneurs, getting proven results, launching companies and creating jobs both in the United States and around the world.    

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