If your business idea has evolved into a workable plan and you need some guidance and funding to get it off the ground, a business incubator could help.
Business incubators blend office or co-working spaces with mentoring programs, funding assistance, business services and the opportunity to network with experts and fellow entrepreneurs.
The National Business Incubation Association is a good place to start looking for a program. Some business incubators will help any kind of business, but a specialized incubator might be your best bet. Business incubators exist for software, retail, media, biotech … the list goes on and on.
You can gain some insight into the quality of a business incubator by its success stories and how long it’s been in business. So ask about those success stories and how long those entrepreneurs remained successful after graduation. You can make sure that they are not outliers or special cases by speaking with other “graduates” and soliciting their feedback.
Find out what it takes to graduate from the incubator. How many years and what milestones do you have to reach before becoming a graduate?
Finally, think about what you’re willing to give up in exchange for the services of an incubator. For-profit business incubators or accelerators operate as businesses in and of themselves. That means a startup may have to give up a minority stake for use of an incubator’s services and real estate.
The NBIA suggests thinking long and hard before trading equity for an early boost. If you’re a particularly good bootstrapper or you can find funding on your terms, consider an incubator with a fee structure. If you’re Okay with giving up a chunk of your business, then by all means, get started.
Adapted from How to Find the Right Small Business Incubator by Pedro Hernandez at Small Business Computing.