Thoughts on Incubators
As WDCEP finishes up its Technology Incubator Feasibility Study key stakeholders Darold Hamlin, President and CEO of the Emerging Technology Consortium, Peter Corbett, CEO of iStrategyLabs, and Charles Plank, CEO of Affinity Lab were asked to share their thoughts on incubators. See below to read their responses on the purpose of incubators, how each has been involved with incubator development, their views on incubators and innovation, and what they think is most important for you, the reader, to learn from this article:
How do you explain the purpose of an incubator?
Darold: The incubator provides an environment to capitalize on the research done in District and Federal Universities. That research that can be commercialized and create new companies can now be located in the District as well as Northern Va. and suburban Maryland. Ultimately, we want the incubator to diversify the District economy and provide new business and employment opportunities for all District residents.
Peter: The purpose of an incubator is to serve as a nutrient rich environment for entrepreneurs to grow new businesses in. It is in these kinds of spaces where ideas, capital, mentoring and talent combine to form innovative product and service offerings that drive economic development.
Charles: The purpose of an incubator is to bring together the people, tools, and culture that entrepreneurs need to conceive, develop and deliver their vision to the collective marketplace. In our version, the focus centers on people. How can we simplify and support their experience and evolution as creators of stronger, more accountable and more valuable solutions for all of us? This is as much about being a solid operational platform as it is about recognizing and respecting entrepreneurialism as a life-style choice. Entrepreneurs are people who stake their livelihood on what truly resonates with them, what truly drives them and what they know best about how to create and deliver. These people need a place to make this all happen.
How have you been involved with incubator development?
Darold: The ETC has been leading the innovative diversification agenda for over four years. We sponsored the passage of the Emerging Technology Opportunity Act of 2007 which required the District to convene stakeholder from government, academia and the private sector to determine if and how innovation could diversify the District economy. The incubator is only a part of the technology based economic development strategy. This comprehensive strategy must be developed if innovation is going to create the new business and employment opportunities that will empower all District communities.
Peter: I have been developing an ‘un-incubator’ model for DC that would enable a low risk, high return option for creating a nutrient rich environment for entrepreneurs in DC. You can read about that here: http://www.istrategylabs.com/dcs-un-incubator-and-a-call-for-your-input/. Additionally, my firm (iStrategyLabs) is the marketing partner for LaunchBox09 – and incubator program here in DC – and we’ll be driving participation in that program via community development and social media marketing. Lastly, we’ve been asked to co-create a incubator program that will exist across Egypt, Jordan and Abu Dhabi.
Charles: My business partner, Berit Oskey, and I started Affinity Lab in 2001. “The Lab” was basically a roll up of all the hard earned lessons we learned starting our first company, a web development firm. After the dust had settled on a number of typical start-up challenges, we created what we wished we could have simply signed up for at the beginning of the process – a scalable on-ramp to starting our business that got infrastructure and operations out of our way and really connected us to a compelling and collaborative group of innovative, talented, entrepreneurial peers. It was that, and we wanted to throw good parties.
How does an incubator further a culture of innovation?
Darold: It provides the resources that are required to change research and ideas into commercial activities. A wide range of resources and skills are required to take the results of research and create a viable company with products i.e. intellectual property protection, marketing, production, distribution etc. For example Tang came from the requirement for NASA to have flavored drinks to support the space program. Dehydrating foods created new products that allowed food to be stored for longer periods of time and created new products.
Peter: Yes! An incubator serves as the source and concentrator of elements required to produce innovation. A culture of innovation is the de facto outcome of bringing together talented individuals in a place where they can create new things.
Charles: First, make sure you are bringing in people and organizations who understand the material value and benefits of collaboration, sharing, giving and most of all, trust. Diversity of perspectives, backgrounds and disciplines is key. Then, create the spaces and circumstances by which real connection can happen naturally, without expectation or pretense. Third, through living examples, make sure it’s clear how sharing ideas opens up the opportunity for everyone to challenge, vet and evolve their own innovations, and that trust and respect are paramount to the flow and success of this opportunity. It’s not hard to love a culture of innovation, but it’s definitely the realm of real grown-ups who know or learn how to make pro-grade openness, trust, creativity and fun an essential part of their lives.
What is one thing regarding incubators you want the reader to take away from this interview?
Darold: Innovation is the key to our economic recovery. Our economy is in trouble because America does not have products and services to sell to the world. We must continue to lead the world in innovation if we want to continue to create the kinds of industries that result in good paying jobs.
Peter: There are many kinds of incubators – the one we need in DC can be created in weeks and will not cost very much to create. This low risk, high reward structure can ensure we’re successful from the onset and enable DC to add more complex elements overtime if so desired.
Charles: An incubator should be a place where, despite all the hard and real work it takes to turn a vision into reality, together, people have the most rewarding, productive and fun time being the best of what they are.