What is a Business Incubator?

By D. Connie Garzon – M.B.A., C.B.A.

Many people ask me what an Incubator is and how it is different from other entities helping entrepreneurs. From my experience, what makes us different is not only the resources and services we offer but also the process we use to help entrepreneurs.

For instance, if the entrepreneur is in the idea stage of his/her venture, we use a process to validate the idea. We use the “Lean Startup” methodology so that the entrepreneurs create a solid business foundation. The Lean Start approach helps the incubator clients to validate their hypothesis, tweak their business model and push the entrepreneurs to think outside the box so that they can accomplish rapid growth. In other words, the Lean approach helps entrepreneurs launch products that customers want. It is a game changer for business coaches and startups. I remember, a long time ago, before my incubator position, I was coaching entrepreneurs to start companies they wanted. I saw millions of dollars go to waste because those businesses focused on what the founder wanted, not what the customer wanted and was willing to pay for. The rate of failure was huge. I wish I had known the Lean Start Methodology fifteen years ago.

Once the entrepreneur validates his idea, we help him/her to launch and grow the venture, from the business concept to customer relations, organization, and operations. Every single item mentioned has its own process. It is important for us as coaches to listen to them and guide them through the process; otherwise, that company foundation will not produce or have the capability to handle any future growth.

Once the branding, product, and legal foundations are ready, we coach on how to launch the business and how to grow it. At this stage of the company, the entrepreneur may need to work hard on networking. Most of the time, we invite our clients to events relevant to their business growth. We introduce him/her to the local ecosystem comprised of Economic Development practitioners, Chambers of Commerce, banks, investors, and local entities that support entrepreneurs.  We also have a mentor group who are part of the local ecosystem. They are successful entrepreneurs and philanthropists committed to incubator companies who generously give their time and leverage their experience for the clients’ success.

Little by little our entrepreneurs become confident and “famous” in the local ecosystem. They are the center of attention because the impact they make on our local economies will benefit our region. They create the companies and the jobs we need to have sustainable regional economic growth.

A business incubator is more than a building.  It is a support system focused on the success of our client companies, the increase of jobs, and the economic growth of our local economy.  It is important that we as coaches listen to and nurture our clients, to guide them in achieving their goals, as well as producing the desired results for the community.

The UCF Business Incubator that I manage is in Volusia County and it serves as a mixed-use incubator. We help technology companies and service companies with high growth potential, and what makes it different is the process we use to help entrepreneurs and the collaboration we have with other entrepreneurial service providers. “It takes a village to raise an entrepreneur.”