by Richard McAloney
Do you like cookies? – We may be the place for you…
There are an enormous number of startup incubator and accelerator programs available to entrepreneurs and teams today. Entrepreneurs looking for a place to develop technology and grow their company need to navigate a labyrinth of offerings to find the program they believe will usher them to success. If we look back to when the Impact Centre was founded in 2004, there were relatively few programs and resources available to student entrepreneurs. Now, with so many choices in programs, I can’t even imagine what it would be like for a young entrepreneur who is just getting started in this environment.
Given that there is a fairly high risk of failure at this stage, the choice of program has a significant impact on your progress. I have frequently seen teams join a program that really wasn’t aligned with their needs at the time, and the companies don’t survive. Who’s to say the company wasn’t destined for failure regardless, however, based on what I hear from the entrepreneurs that have been through it, the correlation is pretty strong. The risk can be minimized with a critical self-assessment and some due diligence of the program you are applying to.
Are you a scientist or engineer making the transition to a startup? – We may be the place for you.
Let’s be honest, you will be spending a lot of time at your new incubator home so it is very important that the environment is supportive to your needs and personality. I’d like to share some observations from the last eight years that may help those in the market for an incubator or accelerator. They might seem obvious but given the number of times I’m asked about this, I hope it helps.
Critically assess your needs and skill level.
Being able to identify your skills gaps is critical for success. In fact, you will turn off many people if your think you know it all and you’d likely be deemed uncoachable. Be brutally honest about your team’s capabilities. It is possible you don’t know what you don’t know, so talk to people that have been there for some guidance.
Are you a scientist or engineer with little experience communicating what you do in non-academic environments? – We may be the place for you
Know your ultimate goal.
Building a startup is an incredibly difficult journey riddled with extreme highs and lows. Passion is the main driver that will get you through the low times. Without deep-rooted passion it will be hard to sustain the motivation to continue. Here’s where a little self-reflection is needed. Why did you start the company? What is your passion? What would success look like for you?
Understanding the passion behind what you’re working on will help you define your ultimate goal and is the beginning of determining what resources you will need to get there. Once defined, you know what to look for in a program.
If the passion that drives you is to impact the lives of people around the world? – We may be the place for you.
Research the program offering.
Check out the website for an initial understanding of how the program operates. Their social media should give a flavour of their personality. This will be a start but you really need to be on the ground in the environment to get a better understanding of the ecosystem and philosophy. The culture of the program is important, but so are their resources and facilities. Explore the programs training, mentoring, and facilities beyond what is on the website. You may need a CNC machine for prototyping but if you’ve never used one it won’t do you much good unless they have someone with the expertise on hand to help.
When you wake up in the middle of the night and you think about the science or a challenge in the prototype development first? – We may be the place for you.
Everyone needs money so I would suggest not having this as the top priority to begin with. You should have an idea of what you need and the program should be able to assist you in getting it. Programs that offer funding may require equity in your company so be mindful of this as it makes it much more important that you get along well. While the Impact Centre does not take equity, which is very common today, over the last 8 years we have helped companies raise an average of $150,000 in government funding.
Do you need prototyping resources with technical experts to help go from idea to small-scale manufacturing? Are you pre-revenue and need assistance accessing government funding? – We may be the place for you.
Talk to the program managers.
This interview has the feel of being a one-sided discussion but don’t treat it this way. It shouldn’t be intimidating; this is your opportunity to interview the program and learn more. This should give you a good feel for the types of people and personalities that you’ll be working with. Don’t forget to explore the mentors, connections, and extended network of the incubator. As companies mature their needs drastically change and expanding the network into areas with deep sector knowledge and extensive experience running companies and raising funding is required. The network at any one place won’t have everything you need. The deep sector knowledge will have to come from your hard work and that’s where the training will come in handy.
In our intake interviews we look for three main things; great science, coachability, and fit in the ecosystem. We must have technical expertise in your area to be able to provide key guidance on building your business. We’re scientists that have built companies so we know the skills gap of scientists and the challenges of prototyping and commercializing physical technologies.
If you’re working on physical technologies – We may be the place for you.
Talk to current and past clients.
Building your own startup is a daunting task. It is quite comforting to be surrounded by folks that are fighting the same battles or have recently gone through what you are. The best intel is gathered from talking to current and past participants. If you can find mentors or others that know about the program, ask them. This will be the most candid and accurate information to match with your impressions. Better yet, try attending some of their events.
Do you want to be immersed in an environment of startups and experts with diverse backgrounds? – We may be the place for you.
With all this investigative work done; you will be in a much better position to make a decision. Think about the program as part of your team. It’s akin to being a prizefighter. You have a team where you train, but ultimately it’s an individual sport. The team and training will give you the fundamentals and then it’s up to your team to perform and make it happen!
Dr. Richard McAloney is the Director of Technology Management & Entrepreneurship at the Impact Centre.