The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the word "incubator" is my middle school science class. I can't remember if we did a project or just read about it, but I am positive it was a point of focus for way too long. We learn about incubators as containers in which environmental conditions may be controlled and maintained to provide a suitable place for growth. In my middle school science class, incubators helped eggs embryos grow, develop and eventually hatch. When I heard the term getting thrown around in our offices, I was pretty confused.
As Paul mentioned in Fueling Startups with TechStars, TechStars has a series on Bloomberg TV that follows a few startups in TechStars New York from the application stage through their 3 month program and Demo Day. While I understood the basic premise of the incubator programs, seeing the way they documented it was like a crash course ... So much so that when I talk about it with family and friends (and see their confused faces), I just pull up the first episode:
Just like a science class incubator that provides an egg with light, movement and an environment to mimic conditions required for growth, startup incubators give young businesses seed money, opportunities to pitch businesses to investors, and access to mentors and sponsors who are all there to provide support. In the short program term, the companies get exposure, guidance about funding and access to every other service a they could need to succeed. Piecing together that experience outside of the dedicated incubator environment would require a lot more time, effort and capital.
These incubator organizations are also referred to as startup accelerators, and they're like a golden ticket to entrepreneurial success ... And that's why it's so difficult for a startup to get accepted to participate in one of them. The value a startup brings to the table is not just in the idea; it's also in the people behind the idea.
Recently, I attended the kick-off party for the new class of Tech Wildcatters startups, and I got a chance to meet some of these passionate startup owners. Their energy is contagious. My first-hand experience immediately reinforced to my why SoftLayer is so interested in helping foster companies that could redefine and reinvent the future.
All of these comparisons between about incubators and eggs have made me pretty hungry ... If you need me, I'll be down the street getting an omelet.