Scattered Thoughts on Startup Incubators
Ask any of the other INCUBATE alumni, and I guarantee you will get different answers from each. Regardless, my biggest takeaways from the program were:
- an introduction to the Sydney startup community; and
- a crash course in lean startup methodology, business management, and venture capitalism.
In my opinion, the value you get out of an incubator* depends on the stage your company is at, and the team’s personal requirements.
In the case of Fluid Education, we applied to the INCUBATE program with a product that had already launched in the market and was generating revenue. Thus, we weren’t heavily reliant on the $5K grant to help us fund early marketing campaigns for example, or pay freelancers to aid in the building of our MVP.
Furthermore, other startups in my class heavily utilised the office space provided, whereas I did not. My (then) co-founder was living overseas at the time, so I tended to either work from home, or stay in the university library between lectures.
Silicon Valley often talks about product-market fit, and I believe you can similarly talk about finding program-founder fit. For instance, as a founder you need to consider:
- the amount of money being offered, and the terms associated;
- the location of the incubator (this is especially important if you need to relocate to a new city);
- the program’s managing team, and whether you’ll get along with them;
- the experience and level of commitment of the program’s mentors; and
- where you want your startup to be at the end of the program.
This is all before you lodge your application (!).
Incubators are more complex than people give them credit for, and they require a large commitment on the founders’ part. Even if the program does not have strict policies on attending workshops or utilising the office space provided, there is an expectation that you will grow personally, alongside your company.
That being said, if you are unsure whether to apply for startup incubator, I would put in an application regardless. If your application is unsuccessful, you can always get feedback by politely reaching out to the program’s team. If you are accepted and end up having second thoughts, you can reassess the program’s appropriateness in discussion with the team behind it.
Hopefully this provides some insight into startup incubators, from the perspective of someone who has been through one. I haven’t had as much time to draft and edit this response as I would have liked, so apologies if it rambles at times.
*I’m purposely ignoring startup accelerators because I do not have experience going through one (that is, not yet — ask me in six months). I don’t want to generalise, as they set out to achieve different goals and are thus not entirely comparable.