There are a lot of business incubators out there. For a small sample, you can view the list of all of the Government of Canada Designated Business Incubators here. The number of incubators worldwide has been steadily growing over the past few years, and it’s easy to understand why. Having mentorship and access to an experienced team at your fingertips when you start a business can make all the difference in terms of success – Not to mention the connections and knowledge of government resources and grants that come with being a part of an incubator.
So how do you choose the right one to work with?
One thing that should be noted is that not all incubators are created equally. It’s extremely important to consider your business and personal needs when deciding which incubator best suits you.
Below is a small list of things to consider:
Support & Programming. Sure, a cool space and a great office vibe is valuable, and everyone loves free snacks and a coffee bar…but do vibes grow a business? Make sure that the incubator you choose has the ability to support you and will work with you to grow your business – not just act as a cool space for networking events. Make sure you have access to a mentor, that the program is tailored to support you specifically, that the incubator team is communicative, that the programming is interesting, and that the incubation can be tailored to fit your needs.
Competing Priorities. Most of us have many competing priorities. It’s important that when you do your evaluation of startup incubation programs that you take note of your needs in terms of flexibility. Do you have family obligations? Do you have other businesses that you are active in? Perhaps you do charitable work, coach your kid’s soccer team every Tuesday & Thursday night, or have a side hustle that is helping pay the bills. Many accelerators and incubators have programming and events that are not tailored for people who travel, or those who need to maintain a delicate balance of personal and professional life. Always consider your competing priorities when making an incubation choice.
On the same topic, it’s important to note “cohort” timing. Some business incubators do not offer rolling admission. Meaning that many business incubators have a hard start date for their programs. Make sure the date and timeframe of a cohort works for you 100%. If this is tough for you to work out, choose an incubator that has rolling admission rather than a fixed start date. That way you can start when you’re ready and do your best work.
Costs. The cost of business incubation programs varies greatly, and many have hidden costs associated. Though one program might appear initially to cost less, it is often not the case. Be sure to get the FULL picture of costs and what you will receive for those costs during the entire incubation period. Many business incubators offer an all-inclusive package that will consist of one larger cost paid in fixed or flexible installments, others will have module based pricing where the startup would pay a fixed cost for each mandatory module, some have equity-based programs, some have a hybrid. Be sure to be aware of this when you are receiving offers and ask questions.
One of the other cost considerations to be aware of is the cost for additional founders. Well established incubators will allow for more than one founder to participate in the program at no additional cost – This enables founders to split the incubation fees. At Empowered Startups, for example, we allow for up to 5 founders to incubate under one Canadian Startup Visa application at no additional fee. This enables more participants to experience the program and gain the insight and knowledge needed to be successful, and enables a team of founders (we know that sometimes it takes a village).
Location. Choose an incubator with a location that is beneficial to you. What ecosystem can support your business the best? In Canada for example, Vancouver & Toronto are known for producing unicorns – And have very strong networks for startups. A small search for Unicorns in 2021 will find heavy hitters with Canadian companies like Clearco, Unbounce, Wealth Simple, Slack, and Blocksteam at the top of the list. Alberta is also taking a run at becoming an emerging crypto & blockchain hub.
Some incubators will offer you the flexibility to incubate from anywhere. Empowered Startups, for example again, will allow you to incubate from anywhere in Canada. If you choose to spend your winters in Vancouver taking advantage of our network there and skiing in Whistler, and then spend your summers in Toronto taking advantage of our network there and enjoying some time at one of the lakes or cottages, that is something that we make possible.
Being accepted into a designated business incubator can be a game changer for growing your startup. These are just a few things to keep in mind, among others to keep in mind while you’re looking for the best fit. Nobody wants to join the wrong incubator, and find it a colossal waste of time and energy.