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?

Is sharing money = promoting social change?

Writing this note has been the most challenging task for me since a while. It is easy to offer help to people but not equally easy to seek help. Perhaps it’s in our culture or perhaps it’s just my predicament, but reaching out to seek help not just once, but over and over again seems just not my thing. However the challenge of raising resources for those who are making the world a better place is what I do and though I have asked for help before, probably more from you seems to be still the best choice I have at the moment.

I have turned 27 this month and have recently asked a question to a close mentor of mine. The question was the feeling of failure for not yet being able to discover making money in the accepted norms of market economics. And also not having a solid plan to generate revenues soon enough. I have depended on charity in the past and am still depended on charity in the present. The problems I am working with do not have a business model right now, nor do they adhere to the conventional norms of making money immediately. But these ventures or entrepreneurs that I work with have one common passion, that of social change. That passion unfortunately does not generate money soon enough and hence we still keep looking for help. My mentor told me that I need not worry too much and I keep doing what I do because it’s my duty and it’s the duty of balance. ‘Balance’ to do good in the world full of agents trying to do bad.

Those who are doing bad do not have a defined business model, then how can doing good have one?

It was a very small conversation, but I feel my mentor gave me the clarity I was seeking when the feeling of hopelessness gave way to burn-outs at work. By this September, I will complete two years of building UnLtd Hyderabad. I have been fortunate to find a solid team in place and together we have supported 21 social entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs, in turn, have generated 45 jobs and impacted the lives of over 40,000 people. We spent close to 40 Lakh rupees in these foundational years of UnLtd Hyderabad. We know that all these 21 social entrepreneurs will not change the lives of the millions of people, but we surely know that they bring the ‘balance’ to the society which is not an option.

The questions with which I sleep and wake up with everyday are whether this is justified? Whether all this is worth it? Why should people who put their hard work to earn money give it away? Again, my whole concern is the fundamental understanding of the value of money. Shall that value hold true for making money = promoting social change, we should have less of the problems with the ‘balance’ since the Ambani’s alone could have made more social change than all of us put together.

We should mint social change instead!

Hopefully some of us would agree that money is not equal to social change and that the agents of imbalance seek opportunities to exploit the resources of each other’s and that of natures to find their fortune it’s impossible for everyone to be a winner at this never-ending development game. The equation I want to see the validity of, is whether sharing money = promoting social change?

Now that I have written so much about finding the balance and the need to work for social change, the biggest question for me is to know whether my friends, associates and people I know and admire in life believe in such balance? This question is so important to me that it will decide the course of my life and career in years to come. I sincerely believe that I need to be honest in framing my questions and search for the truthful answers. I seek your help today, your help in reaffirming my work with your feedback, resources and references.

I will end this note with the most difficult job I have with you!
Can you share your money? Can you ask your family and friends to share their money? If yes, please let me know or better make your donation at our crowdfunding campaign, If you have already donated to someone please take this poll:

Competencies of a successful social entrepreneur

1. Action with a Purpose
What makes a successful social entrepreneur differ from any social entrepreneur is their commitment to purpose, they are generally much more purpose oriented than many others. The purpose to which they adhere to commands every decision they take in their journey.

2. Empathetic
One of the most recognizable thing with any successful social entrepreneur is that they are absolutely empathetic to their stakeholders, much more than we see in other entrepreneurs. They go to the deepest levels of empathy to understand the real pains v/s perceived pain of the beneficiaries.

3. Ears on the Ground
A social entrepreneur cannot succeed unless s/he is constantly aware of the ground realities, since the journey requires one to walk a tight rope of balance between the corporate realities and the charity challenges they cannot afford to look at the value creation from the top-down, they have to see things bottom-up.

4. Making choices
Successful Social Entrepreneurs are masters at making choices, every step in the journey of a social entrepreneur requires them to make a choice and every choice has a very deep consequences. Choices of not just the personal journey’s but choices of what is right and wrong at every decision since they can make or break the purpose of ideas.

5. Audacious
A successful social entrepreneur is the one we always hear about in the society, the reason for which can be attributed to this very powerful quality of being audacious, since every plan of theirs is disruptive to the regular state of affairs unless they believe in their passion so much that they cannot make it infectious they won’t rest. They audacity makes people join their movement to bring the change.

6. Articulation
Any social entrepreneur, whether being an introvert or an extrovert needs to articulate his vision while building their movement. Being articulate here would mean telling the story of their beneficiaries and about themselves in a way the world understands.

7. Risk Taking
Those who have taken unreasonable amounts of risk are the ones who have always succeeded. The risk calculations for a social entrepreneurs are mixed with the data and their gut, which makes them the best people to manage or mitigate risks of running an enterprise.