Starting up a business is a bold move—it’s exciting but it certainly isn’t easy. That’s why, when launching your venture off the ground, you need as much support around you as possible.
In fact, finding reliable guidance is key no matter what stage your business is at, because scaling and growing are every bit as crucial as the launch itself.
There are certainly lots of places you can explore to find this support; friends and family, business loans, grants, crowdfunding campaigns or investment—just to name a few. Another option you could explore is becoming part of a business incubator programme.
Business incubators are a great way for fledgling entrepreneurs or start-up owners to access all kinds of invaluable resources, from money to advice.
However, some people avoid exploring them as an option as they’re not really sure what a business incubator is, how it all works and what they have to offer.
In this blog post, we’ll look at what these business development programmes are, and what support you can access.
What is a start-up business incubator?
A business incubator is a programme that provides new start-ups and early-stage business ventures with vital support. They help open doors for new business owners that they might otherwise find difficult to break through.
Types of business incubator can vary, with lots of different programmes designed to nurture specific industries and sectors. This is important to remember when deciding on the right incubator for your business.
In general, however, start-up incubators can help facilitate anything from access to office space and financial support resources, to things like expert workshops and introductions to investors and mentors.
The precise nature of the support a business incubator provides depends largely on what issues that particular programme sets out to solve.
What does a business incubator usually offer?
There are some issues or obstacles which are universal for business start-ups, no matter what their niche or specialty. So, whilst some business incubator programmes might include additional support for a specific industry, there are some general themes.
Low-cost working spaces
Organisers of an incubator programme will often provide new business owners with access to discounted co-working spaces. This helps keep your initial operating costs down, and can even help you to expand your network in the process.
Education and training
Workshops, training, and various educational sessions are an integral part of business incubation. They can provide fantastic opportunities to learn from those who have been there before.
Access to a network of mentors
Being part of an incubator programme will often put you in touch with mentors from a variety of business backgrounds.
Recent research revealed that some aspects of running a business can be more complicated than new business owners expected, so a mentor can help you approach new situations or plan ahead for them.
Routes into potential funding
Participating in an incubator programme can help a business look appealing to prospective investors. In some programmes you might also have access to funding such as grants, loan schemes, and even investors who might be willing to offer financial support as you start up.
Relationships with other start-up business owners
You will meet other entrepreneurs along the way and build your network of contacts and friends. These sorts of relationships should never be underestimated in the world of business!
Discounted rates for services
This isn’t a given with all incubator initiatives, but some do provide access to discounts on various services, such as accountancy or legal support, for example.
How does a business incubator programme typically work?
Business incubators are there to encourage entrepreneurialism, so they’re often offered by universities to graduating students looking to take the next step. You can also find schemes through local councils, government departments, or other business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce.
It’s always worth researching in detail precisely what a particular incubator programme is offering to its participants so you can make sure you’re enrolling in one that’s right for you. Think about where your start up needs support or what guidance it needs most, then decide which incubator(s) you’d like to apply for based on that.
Top tip: Read testimonials and case studies or reach out to past programme participants to glean some insight into how they found a programme. This will give you a good steer on how it might benefit your own business.
Do I have to apply to be part of a business incubator?
Yes, in order to take part in a business incubator programme, you will need to go through an application process. In many cases, you’ll be interviewed as part of this process.
Can I be involved with more than one incubator at a time?
This will be at the discretion of the programme organisers. Some will permit you to be involved with multiple incubators simultaneously, while others might stipulate that you aren’t. Our advice would be to focus on one at a time, that way you can give it your all and get the most out of it.
How much does a business incubator cost?
A lot of business incubators are free to use, because they’re often funded by government or commercial initiatives of some sort. There are other similar accelerator initiatives that might charge things like services fees, or ask for stakes in your start-up, but where non-profit incubators are concerned this isn’t standard practice.
How long is a business incubator programme?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question because the duration of business incubators varies massively. As a rough guideline: these types of programmes can range between anything from a couple of months to four or five years.
What is worth noting here is that once you’re accepted onto a programme, you will be expected to invest the necessary time into it—something you’ll need to consider before committing to anything.
Find more help and advice for start-up businesses in our online hub, and find answers to tax questions to help you get started.