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The Language of Business Incubation

What a great privilege it is for those of us who have English as our first language for a magazine such as The Business Incubator to be published in our language. For me, the ability to be able to ‘translate’, and to be able to know, understand and speak many ‘languages’ is a cornerstone of best practice in business incubation. A principle that is underpinned by UKBI’s Business Incubation Development Framework.

It is widely debated when (and possibly why) business incubation was discovered or invented. However, despite the on-going challenges of those who would seek to re-brand and even hi-jack the concept, it is clear that the ‘hard’ payback and return-oninvestment (ROI) is significant – as referred to in detail in the first issue of The Business Incubator. Not to mention the ‘softer’ social, community benefits or the so-called ‘ripple’ effects. Despite the unambiguous ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ evidence of the added value of true business incubation, it is clear that the concept and practice of business incubation has, and continues to be, misappropriated. Take for example situations where there are buildings - with no added value services (and no desire to acquire such offerings) - that are described as business incubators, or where such facilities do not have the necessary people of the right calibre in place. Undoubtedly, a ‘fit-for-purpose’ physical facility is important to business incubation clients. But the best businesses (and business incubation environments - as we like to call them in UKBI) also have the best people. And this is not always the case.

As colleagues in New Zealand have been telling us for a long time, our industry is primarily about people…people…people… But in focussing on this issue, and the paramount need to add value to our clients at every available opportunity, we do not help ourselves in business models that primarily focus attention on real estate. We need to continue to explore new and more innovative business models which focus much more on driving and sharing in the success and growth of our clients, rather than their ability to pay rent.

There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about “accelerators” and also “virtual business incubation” - not to mention “hubs”, “huddle spaces”, “co-working spaces” etc. Primarily as a type or ‘sub-brand’ of business incubation, accelerators say they differ from a more ‘traditional’ model in areas of ‘pace’ and that they focus on groups of entrepreneurs rather than individual clients. This may be true to some extent, but the best business incubation environments are focussed on ‘pace’ and ‘acceleration’ and certainly on adding value by group or ‘cohort’ or ‘peerto- peer learning’. The concept of “virtual business incubation”, however, is somewhat different and must not been seen as a cheap alternative to true business incubation - where you can grow potential and client business ‘through a portal’. However, in sourcing, attracting and unlocking the best potential, our industry needs to seek out and, at least initially, occupy the space where (particularly) youngsters are exploring and developing their business ideas.

Despite our desire to focus on business incubation, we do, of course, need to recognise that clients often have little or no interest in what our product or service is called - only in that it adds value to their activities. One of our challenges going forward is to ensure that, when helping create new generations of successful innovators and entrepreneurs, more and more of them loudly proclaim “if it hadn’t been for the support of my incubator, I would not be where I am today.”

Peter Harman

Published on 14-10-2012 00:00 by David Tee. 362 page views

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