Over the holidays, my mom asked me the same question that you may have gotten, “What exactly is it that you do?” I often get the question from some in the business community, “What is a business incubator?” And while I can glibly reply that the Emerging Enterprise Center provides Support, Access to Resources and Advice, so that start-up businesses can focus on Growing their business, Developing business skills, and Graduating with a sustainable and scalable business model, I’m not sure that I’ve really enlightened anyone about what an incubator is and what we do.
First of all, why would a start-up business need an incubator program? Starting up your own business can be exciting, frustrating, overwhelming and all-consuming, all at once. Not every entrepreneur is the same. All have different levels of experience. What they share is their passion for their grand idea. Most also share initially the fear about when they are going to get the next sale! This is part of the validation of their business. Does it solve a problem, and is someone willing to pay you for it? Each time you make a sale, you worry about the next one. As a result, many entrepreneurs find themselves in a vicious cycle. They are so busy marketing, networking, making sales calls….. then going back to “create or produce” the product or service that they are selling…. then handling the invoicing, paperwork, accounting etc. Being by yourself, in a home office or garage, or even in a rented space in some office building, it is easy to dive deeper into a hole, feeling alone, overworked and beginning to get burned out. At the Emerging Enterprise Center, you are not only surrounded by other entrepreneurs facing similar challenges or have survived those challenges, but you have our support in helping you navigate through these issues.
One of the things we talk about first is the sales process…… understanding the target customer, the pipeline and the time line from contact to contract. We talk about documenting the process so it can be replicated, consistently. This is hugely important when you begin hiring others to sell and represent your business. Your Brand is dependent on the consistency of the message and the experience. Once you have confidence that there is value in what you are selling and that there is a demand, you can shift from “where will the next sale come from” to “when!” That confidence moves you into a more operational mode of planning “how” you are going to achieve your goals!
In some shape or form, that is what we are doing throughout the entire two to three years of the incubation program. We help the entrepreneur develop a thought process that goes something like this…. What do I want to be when I grow up? (Long-term Vision and Goals) and What will it take to achieve that? (Operational, Tactical, Practical steps). With that context in mind, our quarterly meetings follow the same format: Which of your commitments did you accomplish or not? What did you learn from that? What are you committing to accomplish in the next quarter? What resources do you need to be successful? How can we help?
This isn’t a cookie-cutter approach because each business’ needs and issues are different. There are some businesses that are fortunate to have customers knocking down their door from day 1, but struggle with the capacity to deliver on the promise. Others underestimate the time it makes to close a sale, and the impact that has on cash flow. And others struggle with understanding when to hire someone to free themselves up to do something that is more important to the business. Sales is only one part of running a business. Add to that, pricing human resources, production, financial and funding issues, and much more. You can only ignore them for so long, but sooner or later you need to address all of them. It takes time, and you can see that skill levels grow day by day. But Ican tell you , when you see the light bulb go on, and it all comes together, you can almost see the entrepreneur’s confidence in themselves and in their business bursting through.
So what is an incubator? It is a program that combines a nurturing environment, with a supporting entrepreneurial eco-system, and assistance in developing the requisite skills that helps start-up businesses enhance their chance of success. Come check out the Emerging Enterprise Center at www.EECincubator.com.