Have a great idea? Try incubating it.
Published: June 26,2012
You have come up with a brilliant idea for a new product or service, and you cannot wait to start your own business and get your widget into the marketplace. You file incorporation papers, obtain an EIN, and get a business card. Yet, you may suddenly be bewildered about next steps, especially as you realize that you are now responsible for the strategy, operations, legal, accounting, sales and HR – functions that you may never have dealt with before.
Where can you go to get the kind of training and support you and your business might need? Take a look at the business incubators in your area.
If someone wants to be a doctor, they go to medical school, then enter into a residency where they get real-world experience practicing medicine while still under the close supervision of a more experienced doctor. Being a client of a business incubator is akin to being a medical resident. You are actually running your business, but with the supervision and counseling to make your business stronger.
An incubator is not about providing fledgling companies with cheap office space, though that may be part of it. A good incubator provides so much more. As an incubator client, you should expect to receive one-on-one business counseling on a fairly regular basis, and to have a coach, of sorts, there to help drill down into the details of your business and provide “been there, done that” guidance on the whole spectrum of business needs. An incubator will likely provide you with infrastructure such as space and telephone and Internet services, but its real value is in making sure you have that business coach or mentor that will keep your business on the right track and position your business for strong growth.
Incubators have an extraordinary track record of success. Nationwide and across industries, the likelihood for any business to be around five years after it first opened is about 44 percent. Yet, the likelihood for a business that graduates from an incubator to be around five years after it opened is 87 percent.
If you would like to be in an incubator to help your business, you are in luck. There are incubators across Idaho, including several in the Boise Valley. You will want to take a look at the services they offer and evaluate whether you fit into their guidelines for the businesses they serve. Most of these incubators are principally looking for: (1) businesses that are likely to be “gazelles” and have the potential for strong job and revenue growth, and (2) business owners who are willing to be mentored.
This second requirement cannot be overemphasized. Some business owners simply are not ready to receive what might seem like harsh criticism. They find it hard to hear that one of their ideas for the business might not work. If you can accept that coaching and criticism, an incubator could be right for you.
Being in a business incubator means being an active and engaged member of a small community. You will share ideas and experience with other entrepreneurs, making connections and learning lessons that will help to grow your business and our whole economy.
To find out more about business incubators in your area, check out http://commerce.idaho.gov/investments/resources/.
Cece Gassner is the Assistant for Economic Development to Mayor David H. Bieter. She developed the Greenhouse, a business incubator in downtown Boise that is operated by the Idaho Small Business Development Center.