If you’re one of the leaders behind the growing network of start-up campuses, incubators and accelerators across our country you may be considering whether to expand your influence even further by opening a second or even third location.
As of 2012, there were more than 1,250 incubators in the United States, up from only 12 in 1980, according to the National Business Incubation Association, and of this number an increasing number have multiple locations. Bizdom, Galvanize, and Gener8tor share their thoughts on three keys to their success in multiple cities:
When deciding whether to open a new location, it’s important to start by asking if it fits with the organization’s vision.
“Our vision from the beginning was to have multiple urban campuses. We set out to create meaningful connections between the super nodes of innovator, learners and ‘startups’,” said Jim Deters, founder of Galvanize, a network of start-up campuses in Denver, Boulder and San Francisco. “The network becomes more powerful the more nodes on the network. At the same time, this is all much easier said than done.”
The same was true for Gener8tor, an incubator with locations in Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Bizdom, an accelerator with locations in Detroit and Cleveland.
“Our goal at the outset was to incorporate both areas,” said Joe Kirgues, co-founder of Gener8tor, who explained both locations had key resources that benefitted entrepreneurs in the other location.
For the most part, entrepreneurs didn’t know about entrepreneurs in the other city, Kirgues said. Opening in both locations filled a void and allowed for the strengths and resources of both cities to benefit the other. The Madison incubator is located next to a university while the Milwaukee incubator is in a more business-focused environment.
The other part of the vision was providing an atmosphere where entrepreneurs wanted to stay in the region instead of setting up shop in other states, a sentiment echoed by Ross Sanders, Bizdom operating director, about why they chose to create accelerators in both cities.
In Detroit, great ideas were being brought to fruition by entrepreneurs who left the city to build their dream. Brands such as Google, Groupon and Method were all launched by Detroit natives who went elsewhere, Sanders said. A similar thing was happening in Cleveland at the time, too. Bizdom was birthed to help change this reality and they simultaneously launched a three-month accelerator program in both locations to support entrepreneurs wanting to start businesses in each city.
Doing thorough research to determine need in a new community and what drives and differentiates the entrepreneurial scene is vital.
“Having conversations with other key players in the community helped us confirm what we thought our niche should be,” said Sanders, who met with leaders of entrepreneurship organizations, potential funders, and others familiar with the ecosystem of each city.
Bizdom was welcomed by community entrepreneurship leaders who saw it as a welcome addition to the local ecosystem, Sanders said.
Kirgues said it’s important to evaluate three things: Location and whether the city provides the best opportunity for your incubator; if the lifestyle is one that you’d want to be a part of; and whether the culture is a good fit for the organization and those leading it. If those three things are true for you they will likely be true for your potential applicants too, he said.
Networking also is important, Kirgues said.
“When looking at locations you need to define scope of network and ability to expand your existing network,” he said.
Who is within your current network and who are you targeting in the new location? Will expanding benefit your current locations and expand your network?
Having two locations let Gener8tor expand its network in both locations while increasing the number of applicants and raising the level of competition.
The final area to think about is community. Not only how community will be fostered internally within the organization but also how it will be leveraged as you establish roots in a new location. Gener8tor leaders go back and forth between locations while Galvanize and Bizdom both hired locally to add to their existing staff.
“It’s imperative. Community is the foundation from which we build everything atop,” said Deters. “We hire the most amazing natural-born galvanizer and community leaders in every market we go to. It must be ground up, local leaders.”
“You have to have a local presence,” Sanders said. “You really have to understand the ecosystem, what organizations can provide funding and recruits.”
While some of your staff will likely overlap between locations having staff already connected within a community will provide access to networks you may not initially have otherwise.