This question stumbled across my Quora and I was struck by the notion that too many incubators fail to incubate viable companies.
I found myself wondering, what does it really mean to be a startup incubator? Are such programs actually doing something, week after week, so that the founders therein develop something? Why was the question asked if not for at least someone, one person, having an experience in which they’re not sure they’re getting what they should from an incubator?
Full disclosure, I’m a regional Director in theprogram ( ) so I am exploring this from a matter of perspective.
That program, our work in Founder Institute, is a voluntary commitment on our part (read: we’re not paid) and we only see a benefit if/when founders successfully graduate AND exit.
Incubators are NOT social clubs, office space, nor mentor networks. If that’s all you’re getting from (or paying for) of one, please, write a review of it online so others don’t fall into an “Incubator” that isn’t.
Social clubs are networking groups
Office space is coworking
Mentor networks are freely available via LinkedIn
I’m not going to share the intricacies of the FI model, that’s a different thread and discussion, but I’ll allude to it as it explains why I’m investing in my time to bring that program to Texas.
An Incubator is a Idea/Seed stage curriculum that develops from founder to company.
Later stage with a focus on growth, sales, substantial funding, etc. is acceleration of a business. That’s an Accelerator.
An incubator is, in every sense of the word, the investment of energy that turns an egg into something viable.
Begging the question of that curriculum; the question I was asked:
What should the week by week activities look like for a top startup incubator?
Call it 10–15 weeks. I think that’s the sweet spot at this stage as the right set of mentors, tools, and time can get a founder through all of this that quickly.
Let’s break it down:
- Idea Validation – 500 interviews on the street!
- Market Development – NOT promotion! Do the market research; size, competition, funding sources, exit possibilities, history
- Customer Development – WHO might buy, why, at what price, how?
- Revenue Model – How to build it, what it might forecast out, how to budget against, how to test and pivot it?
- Branding and Design – Only after all the above. This doesn’t matter without the former
- Legal – Entity structure, formation, agreements
- Go To Market – How to Launch
- Product Development – Planning what to build, when, where, with whom, and how
- Patents, IP, Copyright, and NDAs – No NDAs! The rest might matter
- Hiring and Onboarding – Equity based team, HR / employees, partners
- Growth Plan – Investments, promotion, advertising, optimization, etc.
- Equity and Cap Table – Valuations, vesting, typical conventions
- Exit Strategies – Developing the right targets, network, partners, and IP / Assets to achieve this
- Funding Strategy and Plan – Angels or VC viable? Financing instead of funding. SAFE Notes, Convertible Debt, etc.
The program you join is likely locally run so your mileage may vary, even within the samely branded program (Techstars is run by cities or regions, for example). Whether or not you should consider one is another question recently explored, here.
Bottom line, there should be a structured program, expectations, and resources that align with that stage in the program. Mentors aren’t there for office hours, they’re there to help make sure you exit that week, and the program, with a viable business.