Business incubators get hundreds and thousands of applications for every round. So if you get into one, you’re lucky. The trend of incubators is only a new one in Pakistan. Many people in the entrepreneurial world know how incubators work and what is required to get into them but there is no common knowledge of how is it like when you actually get into one. This lack of knowledge is why, most of the times, entrepreneurs don’t seem to get as much value out of their incubation as they should or deserve.
So here are a few tips that can help you make the most of your time at a business incubator so that you come out more polished and prepared to expedite your business rather than still figuring out things.
A major benefit that you can derive from your time at the business incubator is mentoring. Incubators use their prized social capital to call in leading businessmen and successful entrepreneurs to mentor young entrepreneurs. Make sure you attend absolutely all of them. Even if the theme of the talk/session is something which is not related to your expertise or you already know enough about the subject or you have already attended a similar session before or elsewhere, participate in the session. Why? Because you never know, the session lead can become your adviser, your investor or a gateway to a whole new set of network.
Neither the mentor nor the incubator gets any sort of compensation from mentoring startups or arranging such sessions, therefore, the startup needs to return the ‘favor’ by participating in it and showing respect to the mentor who has taken time out especially to come and guide future leaders.
Moreover, mentors are influential people and as a part of their commitment to giving back to the society, these selfless people will help you in your growth like no one else.
Incubators thrive on their public relations and its doors are always open to visitors big and small from all kinds of fields wanting to know more about the place or wanting to strike up a collaboration for a mutual benefit. So it is important that you meet and greet every visitor/guest that comes in through the connections of the management.
It shouldn’t matter if, for example, you are a hard-core tech startup and the guest is from an FMCG. You never know when someone turns out to be a serious investor or offers to connect you to someone you really wanted to be connected with. It’s all about networking when you are in the world of entrepreneurship and more so when you are only starting out and need as many connections as possible.
Networking also includes socializing with your fellow incubated startups. They are people just like you, with almost the same situations as you. Having friendly relations with them can go a long way in benefitting your own business. For example, I have seen settings where a founder from a tech startup helped develop the technology for a non-tech startup in return for help with marketing as he still hadn’t found a marketing co-founder.
Most business incubators have a set of milestones that they want the startups to achieve during their incubation program. These milestones usually cover every aspect of a business (from co-founder’s agreements, team completion, financials, market analysis to customers, business model and raising investment) and are designed to let you pass through a simulation of business life cycle. Therefore, it is crucial that you actively and efficiently work on achieving these milestones. And while I fully understand that not everything can be achieved during a few months of incubation, you can try your best to at least start the processes before you graduate.
The main purpose behind incubators pushing you to achieve certain milestones is that they want you to have a taste of what it’s like dealing with one aspect of the business or another; so that if you face any hurdle or issue, the incubator helps you deal with it while you are still under its roof.
Following the same line of argument, the more time you spend at the incubator, the more it is to your advantage. And while I understand that not every startup has desk operations, you should try to spend as much time at the incubator as you can. After all, it is only a few months while you are at the incubator. Going out of your way a bit managing your time for some months will always do you good. Startups who are not regular at the incubator miss out on many opportunities including networking, mentoring sessions and ability to sit and reflect on their progress.
5. Incubator Management
The incubator management can be a startup’s go-to place for all kinds of guidance and issues. Those people are there to assist startups in many different ways which may include connecting entrepreneurs with industry leaders through incubator’s contacts, using incubator’s resources to help them find co-founders/employees, providing marketing and PR support and even help you negotiate with investors. Be in touch with the management, have good relations with them and it will help you achieve a lot.
Never hesitate to share your problems with your fellows and management. Make a relation of trust and
6. Staying Connected
And last but not the least, your connection with your business incubator doesn’t need to end with your graduation. It may be the incubator’s responsibility to keep in touch with its alumni startups to stay updated with their achievements/progress and to keep providing them opportunities of investment, the startup can also derive much benefit by staying in touch with its incubator.
In that way, startups can continue to use the incubator’s platform to find co-founders/employees, investors, new connections and use it for marketing/promotion and to avail new opportunities. An incubator’s door is always open for its alumni, use it to your benefit.