Incubator Life: Week 1

Recently, AcademME was accepted into an early stage social entrepreneurship incubator in Washington, D.C.. In spite of incubators growing like mushrooms after a summer evening rain, I had no idea what to expect. Im fairly positive, that uncertainty isn’t/wasn’t unique to me. So, while I’ll also be posting about topics of interest to potential students, I’m going to do my best to post weekly about our actual incubator experience.

We’re an early stage company, building our MVP, finding beta testers (if you have any interest in education, sign up here), trying to earn customers, etc …. So, when I applied to our incubator, the idea of structured support (I.E. help) sounded fantastic. But, when I saw our first week was ENTIRELY classroom based, I panicked. Could we afford to slow down? Ironically, although I was searching for external direction, simultaneously I was fearful of slowing down and not making “progress.” First lesson learned, taking time to evaluate your work and center it against your organization’s values is invaluable for any mission driven organization.

From a personal perspective, I love school (thats why I have three graduate degrees: a JD, an MBA, and an MPP), but taking a week to work through SEED SPOT’s curriculum forced me to objectively think about AcademME’s fundamentals. It was sort of like an MBA bootcamp.

One area we are intensively working on, customer segmentation. Across all levels of higher education, the education provider-student matching process is an expensive mess! So, our desire is to change the whole system immediately for the better for everyone… That is impossible though. A fantastic benefit of reviewing our fundamental assumptions and initial work was the opportunity to challenge our previous decisions. This time too, it wasn’t a solo exercise. Now we had collaborators to question our thinking, support our logic, and point out ideas we hadn’t thought up.

For us, we know the continuing education/graduate school/working adult market is the right starting point for AcademME. However, it took a while (and many conversations) to pivot away from my personal desire to start with undergraduate admissions. Watching and hearing others challenge our decision to work backwards (older to younger) forced us to sharpen our segmentation rationale.

A second benefit reminds me of my MBA classes. Founding a company is an isolating experience. Even if you have co-founders, it’s just you (or you and your team) doing everything. Alone, it’s easy to accept your ideas as sound, no matter if they are. But, having a team of (eight in our cohort) other people/companies learning about AcademME, our market, and their experiences in relation to our product is illuminating. Almost more importantly though, working in a group reminds a founder HOW to work with others. Listening is a skill people lose without practice. Im an only child, I always preferred studying alone, and my previous office was at home. Interacting with others in a professional environment and practicing how to be an active listener, such an intangible benefit of incubating!

Its not all roses though. A major drawback to incubating, two of AcademME’s key “employees” Bart and Tank no longer come to the office. There is a market there, co-working/incubation spaces that host pets ….

If you’re interested in hearing about anything specific in our incubating experience, or just have any comments/feedback, Id love to hear from you. Feel free to hit me up: OR find us on Twitter, @Academ_ME.