Seeds of Wisdom from the NBIA 2010 Conference

The National Business Incubator Association Conference is the largest incubator event in the world. The 2010 event had over 500 participants from 40 countries and provided a great opportunity to mix with incubation and economic development professionals from all over the world.

In-depth workshops, educational sessions, roundtable discussions and networking activities produced seeds of wisdom on many areas, including how to attract and select incubator clients, how to get funding, how to build biotech incubator facilities, how to develop networks for cleantech and Life Science incubators, how to manage lifelong learning for incubator employees, how to choose coaching companies, how to manage an incubator in a science park, and many more.

All of these plans require close collaboration with both large and small companies…

Because this event took place in Orlando, we also received several interesting ideas from the Florida community. The director of the Disney Entrepreneur Center, Jerry Ross, compared companies and incubators and concluded that they have the same requirements: fire, fuel and focus. Ross is heavily engaged in ‘economic gardening’ in Florida, and is dedicated to building an innovation economy.

According to Alan Ladwig, senior advisor to the NASA Administrator, there are plenty of innovation challenges left for NASA to take on. There are plans to develop new kinds of airplanes, new ways of studying climate change, to upgrade the Hubble telescope and to launch an even more advanced telescope. All of these plans require close collaboration with both large and small companies, but these partners will be required to provide more of the funding themselves, sharing more of the risk.

The extent of national and regional funding for research and innovation has an enormous impact on the reach and results of an incubator. Regardless of their location, the incubator process is very similar: you attract business ideas and select the most promising, then provide resources such as funding, facilities and coaching, and when the companies have grown stronger you let them leave. However, how much coaching, how much funding and so on, depends very much on the regulations and programmes at various government levels.

In Israel, incubators are private ventures, but government provides funding to incubator companies. In Germany, incubator facilities are heavily sponsored by government. In the UK, the 11 regional development agencies have individual policies. The Netherlands government has made a commitment to support the TechnoPartner Programme with €25M per year until 2040. Sweden’s national incubator programme is €5M per year providing a public return on investment more than 10 times the public spend, according to calculations made by Innovationsbron.

Incubation was considered vital for regional development and the economic gardening in the future…

When the incubator business started in the US more than 25 years ago, the emphasis was on facilities and filling office space. At a session discussing what incubation 2015 should look like, there was a consensus that the incubator process and incubator services were gaining momentum as the core focus, with the quality of business coaching one of the driving forces, i.e. ‘brains instead of bricks’.

Incubation was considered vital for regional development and the economic gardening in the future, in which alignment with business clusters will be a key aspect. Sustainable development that balances people, the planet and profit is an important aspect along with accessing wider networks of finance for start-up companies. My impression is that we are doing this already in Sweden, but that incubators could become an even stronger player in regional development and could become even more proud of their contribution.

All incubators need access to international markets – customers, competences and capital – in order to develop ‘Born Globals’ (start-up companies that go global immediately) that will have a substantial impact on the economy. Events such as the NBIA conference are vital to enhance networking. For me, the opportunities were made very clear in the International Forum at the conference, which had participation from Sweden, France, The Netherlands, Wales, Japan, Taiwan, Canada, Singapore and India. Despite different conditions, the group was unanimous about the benefits of international networking. The discussion will continue on Facebook and I hope IRL at the NBIA conference in San José 2011. I would recommend that you sign up for it!

By Lena Holmberg, Programme Manager

Lena HolmbergAbout Lena Holmberg

Lena Holmberg is Programme Manager at Innovationsbron, a governmental company providing resources for incubators and start-ups in Sweden. She is Project Manager of HINT, a project focusing on sustainability, innovation and growth, funded by Region Västra Götaland, Innovationsbron and the EU Regional Development Fund. She has a truly triple helix background: she worked at a university and was awarded a PhD; she worked in industry and at an industry research institute; she has started companies and worked for a government agency. Her background is in ICT and she launched a blog for the 30 people from Sweden participating in NBIA 2010. For further details on Innovationsbron, see www.innovationsbron.se or contact her at lena.holmberg@innovationsbron.se.
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