5 things incubators end up doing!

Yesterday I wrote 10 things incubators (should) do to actually support entrepreneurs! but there are things we don’t talk about much. While the world knows and can understand easily on what we can do the donors or investors in particular understand what we end up doing. This post is to share those but also to find a direction to overcome the challenge of minimizing the work which does not benefit our entrepreneurs. We strongly believe unless the success of the incubator is aligned with the success of the entrepreneurs it’s not going to be a great incubation experience.

So here’s the list of key things we end up doing:

  1. Raise Funds!
    • Like any startup, we raise funds. But the hard part is we are constantly raising funds! Imagine the last funding round you just closed and what if I tell you that you need to repeat that cycle ten more times this year! Obviously, what makes it super difficult is to work with the people who are called as investors and donors because even now I just wish they come and see our work and then give us the monies.
    • But no, we spend huge amounts of time finding leads, getting referrals, building proposals, pitching, negotiating, justifying, paperworks, evaluations, reporting and after all of this still justify why we used that funds. At UnLtd Hyderabad we have adopted one single most important method to raise funds now is by directing all our donors to our crowdfunding campaigns on BitGiving.
  2. Build and Manage Team
    • Building a doomsday arc is perhaps easier than building and managing teams. Especially when you are an incubation platform where the environment is always that of a startup you do not find ‘experienced’ people and those who have experience are very few and very expensive.
    • At UnLtd Hyderabad we constantly face the challenges of finding and retaining quality team players and while we try so many different things we still have no clue on finding the magic wand to resolve this issue.
  3. Build Support Network
    • It is not an option for incubators have a community around them or not. They need to have a massive, vibrant, relevant and dynamic community of people, many people think of them as just funders but it’s not true.
    • As an incubation platform, we constantly search and engage with people and institutions. We are hungry for collaborations as that’s the only way we will ever scale and hope other incubators understand this too. When you are building an ecosystem how do you think it makes sense to work alone?
  4. Attend Meetings / Events
    • Meetings and events are things I genuinely wish are fewer than now! While I understand that its very important for the organizers to have their personal brands get developed, but since the purpose of these events is to add value to entrepreneurial eco-system, then why can’t you all work together and just organise one or two events in a year? We attend countless events to find the same people and same content marketed in different ways! But its not an option since this is also a place where we make introductions which is helpful to build our community. Anyways, I wait to hear this line someday – “Due to the huge response to our entrepreneurial event last year and the same kind of response with the XYZ event we have decided to merge our events and bring you the same value at lesser time and costs!”
    • What is the phobia of meetings called? We receive countless requests for meetings of all kinds and spend a lot of time in either attending them or explaining people why its not the best thing to do. Some of these meetings are so deadly they can go on for several months before a decision is made! While many people have written about how to conduct productive meetings I think we need to include such etiquettes and methods in our formal education system.
  5. Actually support entrepreneurs!
    • Nevertheless to say we do things to support entrepreneurs and those which I have already covered in my earlier blog post.

10 things incubators (should) do to actually support entrepreneurs!

Here is a 1000 word note on things incubators like ours do, while most of the incubators we come across are in a constant state of building programs!, here are a few things that as incubators we should be doing or at least make a genuine attempt to do. Next time you hear a start-up incubator representative talk, please ask them to talk about their work on following points when they are done with boasting of their real estate space, the million dollar funds they always have (and will keep having) and finally after they finish giving gyan.

At UnLtd Hyderabad we focus on the objectives of incubation::

  1. To help social entrepreneurs validate their product and market
  2. To help entrepreneurs realize their strengths and weaknesses and steps to overcome them
  3. To help entrepreneurs avoid the obvious mistakes and help them grow faster and better

In order to achieve the above, we are doing the following things at the moment:

  1. Give Entrepreneurs, Money
    • Nothing beats cash, even if you are the most intelligent mentor on planet earth if you truly want to support an entrepreneur give him some cash. The act of giving cash is not just to help them meet their financial challenges, but is actually to tell them that you really believe in them and are ready to give away the most important material thing in the world to see them succeed.
    • We are currently giving financial support to 4 entrepreneurs with a promise to give financial support to another 5 whom we just selected.
  2. Provide Coaching
    • You read it right, am not talking about mentorship neither am I talking about giving advise. We need people who are running incubators to board the same boat as the entrepreneurs and travel along with them to understand their perspectives and worldview.
    • We are currently offering coaching support to 8 social entrepreneurs and have offered coaching to 12 more since 2013
  3. Provide access to experts
    • There are a lot of entrepreneurs who want to give back and the best thing for them will always be lending their expertise to the early stage entrepreneurs, this is different than mentoring because an expert will actually say, “lets sit down and work on your financial planning together”
    • At UnLtd Hyderabad we are constantly identifying and connecting experts to our investees and have recently connected 6 experts with 3 entrepreneurs.
  4. Facilitate Peer Learning
    • There is a lot of knowledge within the startup founders who are still running a venture and that knowledge is invaluable to those who have just started up
    • At UnLtd Hyderabad we have been consistently organising peer learning sessions between our 20 entrepreneurs which is also open to over 200 applicants.
  5. Provide new skill sets through workshops / trainings
    • Incubators need to constantly try to understand the dynamic challenges of the entrepreneurs and need to facilitate skill based workshops relevant to them at the given point of time.
    • We organise workshops based on the entrepreneurs challenges and have held almost one workshop every month since we started. The topics of the workshop range between topics to understand and learn the tricks in Fundraising, Team Building, Legal Frameworks, Marketing and Communications etc.
  6. Provide meaningful connections
    • When was the last time you went to a start-up networking event and found it useful? As incubators it’s our responsibility to either promote or organise events or gatherings where entrepreneurs can come out of their caves to meet other human beings who could be their potential investors, partners or customers.
    • At UnLtd Hyderabad we have arranged over 6 networking events some of which have been attended by over 150 people on a single evening. We don’t just introduce or organize events, but carefully go through the guest list and make introductions between people who can work with each other in future.
  7. Provide information and access about the opportunities for entrepreneurs
    • While one can go online and search for opportunities for showcasing or funding, but that’s not what an entrepreneur should be doing! While they are busy building their products and services, incubators shall play a vital role in not just finding opportunities for them, but also understanding the relevance, quality and steps for entrepreneurs to participate in those opportunities.
    • At UnLtd Hyderabad we do not refer some opportunities because we don’t find the best value for the time of the busy entrepreneur. In our estimate an entrepreneur can easily spend upto 45 days / year of his precious time in just attending or participating in conferences, events, competitions etc!! Damn you eco-system!
  8. Provide access and hand holding support for follow-on investments
    • Entrepreneurs spend humongous time chasing investors / investments. Incubators can help in the whole process by scouting – vetting – introducing – evaluating the investments / follow-on funding to entrepreneurs
    • At UnLtd Hyderabad we constantly support entrepreneurs in this way, one of the entrepreneur, we supported outside our incubation support has just got qualified into a funding deal with a major agriculture investor network in Hyderabad
  9. Get them business!
    • What good is an incubator if it does not help you get customers where the real testing of your product happens? Most of the time I see incubators taking this most important piece of work as the problem of entrepreneur alone! The entrepreneur has obviously more ideas in developing the product and services than selling them unless he is from a sales background.
    • At UnLtd Hyderabad we are constantly helping our entrepreneurs reach out to more and more customers and have successfully helped several entrepreneurs sell their products!
  10. Celebrate!
    • Most often neglected area and considered as entrepreneurs least important need, celebrating is something we as entrepreneurs need to be reminded of and welcomed. Entrepreneurs fight a thousand battles in launching even a single product and after they launch? They go on repeating the cycle! Incubators need to be conscious of developing spaces for celebrating small or big-wins
    • At UnLtd Hyderabad we party well and party hard! Our organizational culture allows us to appreciate celebrations and welcome them in moderation. We do remind our entrepreneurs to celebrate and join them in their happiness.

What do you think an incubator should do?