Back in 2010 when this wacky idea of starting a small business incubator in Downtown Red Wing was just starting to take hold, the realization that we should spend some early money on professional incubation education seemed like a good idea.
We joined the National Business Incubation Association (now called the International Business Innovation Association) and attended two national conferences.
The first conference was a two day crash course in business incubation, the do’s and don’ts of starting an incubator.
The second conference was all about networking with other like-minded incubators.
Here were a few high level takeaways from this education:
- The is no single model of business incubation that fits all communities. Business incubation needs to be tailored to fit the needs of the community.
- In the broadest definition, business incubation is anything that promotes and helps small businesses get started and grow. This can be accomplished with mentoring, financial help or simple encouragement.
- There will always be opportunists who will try and take advantage of incubation services. One bad deal can bring an entire incubator down. It is good to be skeptical and realistic at the same time.
- Practice tough love with your clients.
This early education was very helpful and it did create some long term relationships in the industry. But there is no substitute for experience and there is no way to gain experience without active business engagement.