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A guide to business incubators: where to find them and how to use them
Business incubators are an important part of a startup’s life cycle. They’re used to help new businesses develop by providing invaluable services and support, including anything from office space and research facilities to access to mentors and investors. Because all businesses grow at different pace, incubator periods can range from a few months up to a couple of years; whatever it takes to get your business off its feet.
While often geared towards the high-tech sector, there are also local economic development incubators, which focus on areas like job creation, revitalization and hosting and sharing services. This makes business incubators an important part of regional and national economic development.
These programs give companies that are still defining their operational models and goals access to mentorship and logistical and technical resources. Incubators operating within sectors like biotechnology, information technology, multimedia or industrial technology may even provide the use of advanced laboratories, allowing startups to develop and test products at a lower cost before beginning production.
Some incubators function as non-profits while others exchange their services for equity in the new business. We’ve rounded up some of the top business incubators in the country to help you find one that works best for you and your new business. Here they are, in no particular order.
Silicon Valley, California
This global incubator is wholly digital and aspires to help one million entrepreneurs each achieve one million dollars in annual revenue. Based on online educational programming, you’ll experience video lectures and get connected with online strategies and mentors. Aspects of this virtual incubator are free, but only approved members can access the entire program.
Bonita Springs, Florida
CSI Kick Start provides funding and an offsite incubator environment where FinTech startups can find the resources and tools they need to grow. Entrepreneurs partnering with CSI Kick Start can expect not only funding but also expertise, guidance and mentorship from a partner to help you build a sustainable business. The incubator offers everything from human resources to knowledgeable entrepreneurs with an in-house production company.
Based at Missouri State University, you don’t have to be physically nearby to apply, so long as your company is a good match for the program’s goals. You can access support services, counseling, admin support and shared equipment. Mail services, virtual conference rooms and access to mailing lists and mentorship are at the heart of this program.
New York, New York
DreamIt was founded in 2008 and is one of the country’s 20 most active incubators, having accelerated over 300 startups. They help entrepreneurs with a market-ready product and a founding team secure both capital and customers. This 14-week incubator program includes one-on-one coaching, pitching to potential customers, meeting with top-tier venture funds, and access to a network of helpful alumni.
San Francisco, California
This incubator is known for its diversity, with 44.5% of its portfolio founders belonging to racial minorities. Thousands of companies and more than 3,000 founders have worked through this four-month program that provides hands-on learning, office space, mentorship and an investment of $100,000 for just five percent of your startup.
Focused on tech startups, Amplify LA offers investments often ranging between $150k-$300k. Not only do they write checks, but through this incubator program you’ll receive access to high quality talent, working with their portfolio companies to bring in additional capital from investors when ready. You’ll also benefit from their extended mentor network and a variety of free or discounted services, including hosting, legal, banking and more.
StartX is an educational non-profit that accelerates the development of Stanford’s top entrepreneurs through experiential education and collective intelligence. If someone in your company has a connection to Stanford University through an undergraduate or graduate program, you can qualify for their Accelerator program, otherwise you can explore their on-site incubator options. StartX requires no fees and takes zero equity.
Mountain View, California
Y Combinator provides seed funding for startups twice a year. If selected for funding, the founders of your startup must move to Silicon Valley for three months, and participate in group office hours every two weeks. You’ll have the opportunity to meet with partners and experts, including startup founders, venture capitalists, journalists and execs from well-known tech companies. Each cycle culminates in Demo Day, when you pitch to a carefully selected, invite-only audience.
Since 1993, more than 165 companies have called the Technology Innovation Center home, with more than 80,000 square feet of prime lab, light manufacturing and office space. This business incubator provides Milwaukee’s exceptional community of entrepreneurs with the environment, supports and resources it needs to help get to the next level, including 20,000 square feet of state-of-the-art wet laboratories, 50,000 square feet of office and IT space, and 10,000 square feet of office suites, board rooms, conference rooms and even classrooms.
The Austin Technology Incubator is the startup incubator of the University of Texas at Austin. ATI focuses on helping startups compete successfully in capital markets. Although they don’t fund startups, they have strong, long-term, trust-based relationships with investors—the local angel investor community, local and national venture capital firms, and sources of public funding. The program is customized to fit each company, and you don’t need to be part of the university to apply.
Remember to do your research before choosing an incubator to work with; shop around until you find one with the services and support your business will need to thrive. Also, consider that while continual mentorship, networking and pitching could be exciting to some business owners, it could be distressing to others. Figure out which camp you belong to. After all, you could be giving a business incubator equity in your company, so make sure you’re getting everything you want in return.