Incubators are one of the best resources for entrepreneurs. Getting into the right program can help propel your business. It also can help you make meaningful relationships, and get you involved in the community.
With that said, not all incubators are the same. While people will pay most attention to office prices and how the space looks, there are more important factors to take in mind. With more and more incubators starting up, it'll pay off to do some of your own due diligence before picking one. Here are some of the questions you should ask before signing the dotted line.
1. Does the incubator have its own community?
When looking at an incubator, one of the important things to pay attention to is how the entrepreneurs interact. Do people ask others for help? Are companies closed off? Is the incubator deadly quiet? These questions will help gauge how powerful the community is. You want to find an environment where you can contribute help, and people can help you as well. You should also look to develop relationships past the point of just networking.
You want a community that is there to support you at your lows, but also celebrate with you when you achieve a win. While many incubators say they have this, in reality, it takes a lot more work than most people think. See if your incubator does any events for their entrepreneurs, or if teams are hanging out together on their own. If you find an incubator with a weak community, it's not worth joining, even if it has cheap rent.
2. Does the incubator provide mentorship?
Having advisors who can help save you from the mistakes they've made will go a long way. A good incubator is a great resource for you to tap into the mentor networks you need. Before committing to joining, make sure you take a look at what role mentorship plays in the incubation strategy. Are companies meeting regularly with advisors provided by the incubator? Are the people who are running the incubator willing to help?
Check what success the mentors at the incubator have had before. Also find out what specialties the mentors have. Getting help with legal, product development, and marketing are all useful. What are not useful are mentors who know nothing about startups or your business.
3. Does the incubator help you get involved with the outside community?
Great incubators do more than just build a community within its building. Exceptional incubators will have outside entrepreneurial events for the community. This will help you get involved and make connections outside the incubator.
A great example is William Kirkland, executive director for the USC/Columbia Technology Incubator. Kirkland has built up the local ecosystem by having incubator events that build support for startups. Overtime, this has helped the incubator graduate well over 30 companies, and create around 800 jobs.
Another good example is Tony Hsieh from Zappos. Hsieh has made huge efforts to help improve the city of Las Vegas, where Zappos headquarters resides. His philosophy is to build a community where the Zappos office is a part of the city and the city is a part of Zappos.
A good incubator will have a strong internal community, but a top incubator will help the outside community. Before joining, make sure you understand how your potential incubator is helping out the city. A city that is friendly to entrepreneurs is a huge advantage. Because of this, incubators should help get the outside community to support their startups.