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Startup Incubators are Not Created Equal

Business startup incubators are not created equal. Incubators should be educational and supportive.

Global Influencer

Global Influencer
Global Influencer

Entrepreneurs have been coming to me in the past few months asking for mentoring ‘because they were entering an incubator/accelerator’ and needed help. Really?

My big question was why aren’t they offering mentoring at the incubator and if they are, why did they need me? In two cases I was told that they needed help with the validation of their idea.

It’s funny but, as both explained their ideas to me I realized that their ideas were not only half-baked crazy ideas but had little hope for success even in a parallel universe. This begged the question of why were they in an incubator/accelerator in the first place?

The answer was simple: because they had paid for a seat in order to fully develop their business. These people weren’t evaluated, had no support mechanisms in place and certainly had no business skills in order to move forward.

No one benefits from such an arrangement.

There are two different types of start-ups that need incubator/accelerator support. First, there is the entrepreneur with some experience, who has set up a business with a great idea that may have a minimal viable product (MVP) but is lacking specific business knowledge and financing. He may have an innovative concept but that is not necessary. General workshops would appeal to the business owner who lacks significant business knowledge.

Secondly, there is the Founder and a small team, with IP, some sales, a strong market, good management and an exit strategy. These guys want to go big, fast, and sell the business for big money. They wait for no one.

The differences between these types of entrepreneurs do not fit into a cookie cutter formula, so incubator/accelerators need to be flexible as well.

Obviously an early-stage start-up is going to need more hand holding, which is more conducive for entering a solid incubator. The business/client also generally pays a small fee for facility use and workshops but the mentoring and camaraderie of being in one of the incubators can be the difference between success and failure.

When a self identified provider calls themselves an accelerator, then takes fee-paying neophytes, it’s an injustice to the client. Quite a surprise to me was one of the people who came to me had been accepted by a renowned accelerator in the Waterloo area.

The providers of entrepreneurial services to entrepreneurs in Vancouver generally fall into the accelerator format. Advanced training, entrepreneurs in residence, resource rich environments and financial support aid the start-up to flesh out their MVPs and move ahead.

Going back to the other start-up, the entrepreneur with an idea but no MVP, no specific direction and no business skills per se produces a quandary. Universities don’t give you any help in fleshing out an idea, mentors can be expensive, and business skills are best developed in the field.

I recently spoke to Bruno Gomes, Program Director of the Global Startup School@TamwoodCareers in Vancouver. Frankly, these guys were completely off my radar for entrepreneur support.

Tamwood is an award winning, international company with 13 campuses in two countries and over 60,000 alumni encompassing language schools, business summer camp locations, a career college and now the Global Startup School.

So it’s another business school? Not quite!

Gomes explained that the Global Startup School (GSS) was a cross between incubator and a business degree with extended hands-on programs that helped entrepreneurs develop business ideas from scratch or validate ideas they already had in mind.

The Applied Diploma in Innovation and Entrepreneurship (56 weeks) is geared for aspiring entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs. Yes, ‘aspiring’ entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs. Many people have not heard the term intrapreneur before but according to Wikipedia, Intrapreneurship is the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization.

That program also comes with a practicum component for those wanting more experiential learning, the Applied Certificate in Marketing for Business and Product Startups (32 weeks). According to TamWood, “In this program, you will create a product or service from scratch by going through all the steps of a marketing process in real life conditions, including customer discovery, research, promotion, product design and brand management.”

They also have a certificate in management for startups that rounds out their offering. Their approach is more of a holistic one in that they have skills training, mentorship, experiential components and more of a general business knowledge based on the entrepreneurship model.

The result is that the aspirant can decide to become an entrepreneur or have an innovative mindset to join a large company with skills that a startup can utilize. We’re not all meant to be entrepreneurs and this school addresses that elephant in the room.

On their website they are quick to point out that their school is a unique combination of the co-work space, business school, incubator and accelerator. A bold statement, but they pull it off as evidenced by their 60,000 alumni.

Their philosophy is simply said on their website, “You can come without a business idea or even the desire to own a business. We help you discover your passion, develop your talents and achieve your goals. By combining the traditional business school model of lectures and seminars with the lean startup, hands-on model of incubators and accelerators, you will learn the skills and knowledge to either launch your own business, work in a startup or work as an innovator for a big business.”

Gomes told me that their uniqueness doesn’t stop with their course offerings but includes working entrepreneurs as their instructors and guest lectures by industry pros that topped 50 lectures last year. That’s exciting! It makes one want to volunteer for a lecture.

In the GSS program, I get the feeling that although they use classrooms they would rather not have lectures in favour of experiential training in actual business projects.

When Gomes talks casually about the excitement he gets in helping young people (his demographic is 25-35) fulfill their dream it resonates with someone like me who has done this most of my life.

There’s hope for the dreamer!

Gary is CEO of Bizzo Management Group Inc. in Vancouver. He has mentored over 1000 business leaders, investors and entrepreneurs. London-based Richtopia placed Bizzo on the Top 100 Global Influencers in the World for 2018.

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