Startup companies are similar to infants–the first few years of life are the most fragile. For many entrepreneurs, business incubators are crucial to helping them survive this delicate period of meeting new customers while managing new expenses.
Incubators are mentoring centers that provide coaching, networking opportunities, and even affordable office space, says Robert Jackson, CEO of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Pennsylvania (AACCCP) in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Incubators often operate in partnership with colleges, chambers of commerce, and other resource organizations to offer their services to startups. Some specialize in minority and women-owned businesses.
Jackson and other experts say to make the most of the time spent in a business incubator, entrepreneurs should adhere to the rules, network with other companies consistently and manage their time well.
Know the requirements. Sheila Mixon, a senior business coach with the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati, helps small businesses locate and apply for business incubator services. “Entrepreneurs can find an incubator by doing a simple Internet search,” she says.
Once a business owner has found a potential match, they usually submit an application and must then be selected before they can join the incubator, Mixon says. Owners should have a business plan and be able to prove that their business is a legitimate up-and-coming company. “They should have the basics, such as a business checking account, registration with the state, and a tax ID number,” she says.
Participating companies should also be prepared to pay the lease for any offices or conference rooms they use, though rates may be below-market. “Our incubator charges anywhere from $150 to $500 per month for office space,” Jackson says.