Incubators are geared toward startups and early-stage companies. Some of these are located in physical spaces, much like coworking spaces. Others are virtual, providing business owners with mentorship and coaching remotely.
Joining an incubator is a lot like applying to a college program. You apply to the incubator and once accepted into the program, you are expected to follow a schedule to meet identified and agreed upon benchmarks. You will be asked to commit to a particular length of time, usually one to two years.
Incubators are an excellent place to refine your business strategy and plan, work on product development, identify potential intellectual property issues and network with other startups. Some incubators offer to invest in new startups, either as a loan or in exchange for equity. Incubators may also offer workspace to the company and share resources among several startups to increase synergies and spur innovation.
One of the most significant benefits of an incubator is mentorship. Seasoned business professionals provide coaching to help the business get off the ground, perfect its pitch and connect with investors.
On the upside, incubators help you become disciplined in your business since you sign on for a specific period of time and agree to a schedule with agreed-upon benchmarks. On the downside, you lose some control over your vision and your time isn’t always yours.
Before you apply, always do your homework. Here are some tips on how to select the one that’s best for you.
Commerce has an online map of coworking/maker, incubator and accelerators to help you find one near you.