Founders - Here are 7 Important Lessons you can Learn From an Incubator
Early-stage startup founders may well have heard about incubators but are not sure what they are all about.
If that is you, let’s put things right by explaining what an incubator is and some of the important lessons you can learn by joining an incubator program.
What is a Startup Incubator?
A startup incubator is a company that assists newly found and early-stage startup companies. They aim to develop a business around the startup's initial business idea, service, or product.
To achieve that the incubator will offer a variety of services. This includes such things as management training, basic marketing knowledge, a workspace with relevant facilities, and perhaps most importantly advice from and access to business experts with deep knowledge of what it takes to make a startup grow in a healthy and structured manner.
This support, assistance, and advice will allow a startup to focus on its product or service while developing its business through its early stages.
Incubators help startups to establish their business. From there, they will advise how to grow and scale successfully. Many incubators also have direct links to funding opportunities that would otherwise be far harder for a founder to establish on their own
It is generally accepted that any startup founder entering an incubator program will either pay for the services with an upfront fee or more usually, agree to give the incubator a share of equity in their startup.
Many industry experts believe that choosing an incubator program with a good track record has real benefits. Those founders who partner with the right incubator can gain an essential advantage when it comes to getting their venture up and running. Entering an incubator program can be an important building block. One that will help effectively grow your company.
With that in mind, here are…
7 Important Lessons an Incubator Program Offers
Entrepreneurs new to the startup world have belief in their idea. They often feel that their venture is a unique business service or product proposition. That may well be the case. After all, without the belief that their solution will be a success, there would be little point in going down the startup route.
However, without the correct resources and guidance, getting the business moving and noticed can be a major challenge. This is where an incubator comes in. The people behind incubators have been there and done that! They understand what is required to get results from a fledgling company.
To help understand what lessons can be learned from joining an incubator program with a proven track record, here are 7 to consider:
Clear Focus and a Business Structure
Those founders that are new to the startup world often find it hard to maintain a full business focus. This is because there are so many unforeseen issues to deal with on a daily basis. It is these distractions that can sap morale.
When taking advantage of a startup incubator program you will be in a professional and focused environment. One that is conducive to getting things done in a distraction-free setting. This will allow founders to prioritize goals. Incubators understand that most startup business models will need fine-tuning and they are ready to give advice, encouragement, and direction as required.
This is because a proven startup incubator program will provide a complete business infrastructure. One in which your work environment will be as free from outside distractions as possible. The incubator will make it their business to understand your business and individual objectives.
The result will be to allow founders and any team members to fully concentrate and work towards proving that their product or service fits into the given marketplace. In essence, it will be a one-step-at-a-time progression toward success.
This is a key asset that startup incubators can offer. Ask successful founders just how important mentorship has been during their journey(s). Their answer is very likely to be; invaluable!
The expert advice offered by strong mentors can make a world of difference to a startup's progress and focus. An experienced mentor will teach founders to think critically about all aspects of their venture. With that in mind, founders and their teams should not expect an easy ride.
They must be prepared for some hard, straight-talking advice from mentors. The knowledge they impart will be to highlight any shortcomings and give ways in which these can be fixed.
Every session you have with a mentor should be viewed as a learning curve. In that respect, one thing is proven, to get the best out of mentoring sessions it is essential to go into every meeting with an open mind and be prepared to take on board the advice and guidance given.
Essential Leadership Skills Will be Taught
This important strand of what an incubator can offer relates to mentoring but it will be far more focused on leadership skills.
As a founder, you are likely destined to become the company’s CEO. This may change over time but it is a position that requires specialized skills and the ability to correctly manage all aspects of the business as it grows. While there will be hands-on requirements, delegating will also play a very important part in this education.
As a founder new to the world of startups it is unlikely (and fully understandable) that you will have developed the skills to fully manage a business. It will also be challenging to manage a team that comes with individual personalities and skill sets toward the goals and objectives you have in mind.
To gain this management experience founders need the ability to make tough decisions as well as acquire soft skills. An example of the latter is empathy and while soft skills can gradually be built, receiving direction and experienced advice will be invaluable.
That is where a key incubator advantage can be gained. They will have a highly experienced business coach on their team. This coach will be tasked with training a founder on all aspects of a CEO's responsibilities and key business development needs. It is also the case that these business mentors can offer insight into those all-important soft skills.
Some of the business coaching fundamentals a potential CEO will be given from an incubator are:
- The need to continually learn while improving and building new skills.
- The ability to be a good listener - right across the board.
- Constructively supporting your team.
- Being a customer champion.
- Having a clear, concise understanding of goals and objectives and the ability to achieve them. This includes any set by stakeholders.
- An acute insight into managing available assets versus liabilities. This will be a wide swathe but will include such things as managing available funds and gaining knowledge of how to extend a runway should it become necessary.
- Be prepared to pivot - To achieve this you will need to keep an open mind on all feedback and the reality of situations.
While the above business coaching relates to CEO skills, it is often the case that quality incubators have access to personnel who can also give invaluable advice and direction to other team members. This includes those who are to become CTOs (Chief Technical Officers) or CMOs (Chief Marketing Officers).
Grasping Essential Marketing Principles
Without the ability to understand and put in place effective marketing principles, your startup will struggle. An incubator program will include workshops and tutorials on proven principles, techniques, and methods used to effectively market a service or product.
These will be tailored depending on the type of business sector you are in. They will also include specific customer segments. These principles are not easily sourced from scratch but experienced startup incubators have the knowledge to infuse such principles into your product management process.
The goal will be to make product development and product marketing as indistinguishable as possible. The importance of building your business around your product cannot be underestimated.
It should be noted that startup incubators do not offer marketing services. What they do offer is a deep insight into the principle of marketing. This will include best marketing practices and should be viewed as your team's stepping-stone to effective product promotion.
Pitch Presentation is an art!
There are no two ways about it. Raising the funding required to progress your startup will be far more difficult without a highly persuasive pitch presentation.
Pitching is very similar to storytelling and while some founders will find presenting far easier than others you can be sure there are many different ways in which to present your story.
The incubator program you are involved in will offer constructive advice on your pitch presentation. It will encourage you to focus on a product pitch as opposed to a business pitch. You will also have the benefit of listening to other founders' pitch presentations.
The feedback and advice received will be gradual and this will allow you to improve and perfect your pitch during the time spent in the incubator program. A key area of discussion will be that a pitch presentation develops and matures as your business does. This means it is an ever-moving target that should include notable achievements or milestones as they are met.
Understanding Resources Available
Many founding teams have a great idea but what they lack is the knowledge of how to best leverage professional resources. These are necessary if you are to develop your business and create a healthy customer base.
A quality startup incubator will be able to guide and advise on how to make the most of free and paid-for resources. They have the tools at their disposal and can educate founding teams on how to take the best advantage of those that will keep your business moving forward.
This will be achieved through regular workshops on such things as roadmap creation, how to carry out effective market research and forecasting as well as financial and legal structures. The key benefit of an incubator in this respect is that they have all such resources (and more) in one place.
Being given access and insight into where to look and what to look for means far less time is spent searching alone. This time-saving ultimately leads to a noticeable reduction in costs for the founder.
Not set in Stone but Securing Funding Could be Made Easier
This final incubator benefit is not set in stone but it is worthy of serious consideration!
As can be seen from the above, a key advantage of joining a quality incubator program relates to the tight network of advisors and investors that your startup will be exposed to. This means that if things go to plan during your time with an incubator you could walk away with introductions to perhaps 5-10 influential people. These important contacts will be engaged and eager to assist your startup in progressing to the next level.
If that is the case it follows that this could give you access to preferential treatment when applying to angel investors or venture capital firms for funding. The reason for stating this is that these types of investors often have connections with startup incubators.
Not all Incubators are Created Equally
As a founder, the question of whether to go down the incubator route or not must be viewed very seriously. It is also clear that not all startups will be accepted in such programs. However, there are some serious benefits for those ventures such a program fits.
Because of our deep experience within the startup world and our ability to guide your venture in the right direction, WOWS Global is perfectly placed to advise you on incubator programs and all things related to your startup’s journey and progression. This will include advice on whether an incubator program is right for you and if so, ones that are proven to be effective.
We can also offer you access to our state-of-the-art digital ecosystem. This secure online platform will be a solid foundation that keeps all essential and relevant information in one place with secure access to those you deem necessary.
Another highly effective strand of our service comes with the ability to match startups with like-minded investors. The result can be highly effective funding opportunities.
Any founder that would like to understand more should reach out to WOWS for an initial no-commitment discussion at: