It takes more than good intentions and extra space to be successful in starting an incubator.
Here are three tips to to help campus departments of economic development go from idea to execution:
1. Write a business plan (and be prepared to change it).
As with all successful startups, incubators might need to adapt their focus to meet the changing needs of students, entrepreneurs and the community. “Like any good entrepreneur, we’ve responded to the market and pivoted many times,” says Ned Staebler, vice president of economic development at Wayne State University and CEO of TechTown, which started as a technology incubator and evolved into a general business incubator.
2. Establish an application process.
To increase the odds an incubator will meet its goals, it’s important to be selective about who gets in. UMass Boston requires life sciences startups to have at least $500,000 in seed funding. New York University rejects 90 percent of applicants. “We have a rigorous selection process,” says Kurt Becker, vice dean for research, innovation and entrepreneurship at NYU. “At a minimum, companies must have a viable product and seed funding [to get into the incubator].”
3. Cultivate connections.
“Build mentor networks of experienced entrepreneurs,” says Kirstie Chadwick, president and CEO of the International Business Innovation Association. Use connections to host “lunch and learns,” serve as entrepreneurs- in-residence or help startups with PR, social media, legal and financial advice. To maintain the momentum of its incubator, North Carolina State recently tapped its connections to create the Wolfpack Investor Network, a network of alumni interested in investing in university-affiliated startups.