Business incubators: giving startups a new lease at life

Business How To’s

23 April 2019

Business incubators: giving startups a new lease at life

  • Posted by Awfis Editorial

We’ve all heard of the term incubator. It’s mostly in the context of a science lab where a controlled environment helps create the ideal conditions for the growth of microorganisms (the good ones). Or you might have heard about it around hospitals and babies – an apparatus where premature or ill babies are looked after until they are well enough to face the world.

The premise of a business incubator is not much different, and it draws from both these scenarios. For an entrepreneur a new business is like a baby, needing round-the-clock attention and care. And it also needs the right environment that can help it grow and flourish.

So, is that all there is to it? Let’s find out a little bit more.

Meaning: what’s in a word?

The corporate world describes a business incubator as a facility that is established to nurture fledgling businesses during their young or early years. It offers all the support services and builds the right environment needed by the yet young and fragile business to grow before it can take on the world as a serious entity.

Do not mistake a business incubator as a business assistance program or service. An incubator’s role is that and so much more. But before we get into it, let’s step back a bit and see how the concept came into origin.

History: how did the term originate?

The formal inception of business incubation started in the USA way back in 1959. Massey-Fergusson, the largest industrial center in Batavia, shut down in 1956 and left behind an 850,000 square foot complex of multi-storied buildings which was purchased by the Mancuso family. Instead of splitting it into many units and renting it out to several businesses, as many would have done, Joseph L. Mancuso decided to offer shared office services, but took it a few steps beyond by including assistance with raising capital and also offering business advice. And that’s how Batavia Industrial Centre became the world’s first business incubator. Over the years it has helped thousands of businesses find their feet in the corporate landscape.

The idea took off in the 1980s and soon spread to the UK and Europe, emerging on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean as innovation centres, pépinières d’entreprises, science parks, etc.

Business Incubator: Not business assistance

We’ve already mentioned above that a business incubator is not like a typical business assistance program. For starters, a business incubator does not cater to the needs of any and every company. Entrepreneurs looking to be part of a business incubation program have to apply for admission. The criteria for acceptance vary from program to program, and company to company. However, in general, only those startups which have feasible business ideas and a workable business plan are admitted.

Yes, most business incubators offer office space and shared administrative services to clients. But the core of a true business incubation program is the services it provides to startups. Many incubation programs serve affiliate or virtual clients which do not occupy the incubator facility. These could be home-based businesses or companies in their early days that work out of their own premises but can benefit from incubator services. Virtual clients could be those that are too remote from an incubation facility but can receive counselling and other assistance electronically.

Startup companies often turn to an incubation service to overcome the hurdles of lack of resources, experience and networks. Some of the most common incubator services include:

  • Help with business basics and marketing
  • Networking activities including access to strategic partners and investors
  • Market Research
  • Accounting/financial management
  • Assistance with bank loans, loan funds and guarantee programs
  • Help with presentation skills and business etiquette
  • Links to higher education resources
  • Comprehensive business training programs and mentoring
  • Technology assistance
  • Help with regulatory compliance
  • Intellectual property management

Present Day Scenario

Today there are about 7,000 incubators worldwide, with a large chunk of them spread across the US and Europe. While government entities, such as cities or counties, take up 21%, around 33% of these are sponsored by economic development organizations,. And then there are academic institutions, including two- and four-year colleges, universities and technical colleges, which account for another 20%.

Business incubation isn’t limited to just developed nations; incubation environments are being created in developing countries and organizations such as UNIDO and the World Bank are offering financial assistance. Several countries also run incubation programs that are funded by their regional or national governments as part of their overall economic development strategy.

Conclusion

Business incubation isn’t a program that is limited to assisting individual businesses. It is a means of meeting a range of economic and socioeconomic policy needs of a nation, including but not limited to job creation, fostering an entrepreneurial climate, building or accelerating growth of local industries, diversifying local economies, business creation and retention, identifying potential business opportunities and community revitalization.

How long a company spends in an incubation program depends on a number of factors, including the type of business and the entrepreneur’s business expertise. Businesses with long research and development cycles take much longer than say, a manufacturing or service companies which can produce and bring a product or service to market quickly. On average, incubator clients spend close to 33 months in the program. Several incubation programs rely on development benchmarks, like company revenues or staffing levels, instead of time.

7 Board Games to Hone Your Leadership Skills

Business How To’s

21 October 2019

7 Board Games to Hone Your Leadership Skills

  • Posted by Awfis Editorial

Unconventional workspaces can boost creativity, and have you looking forward to Mondays. What if we told you that you could up your leadership game by simply indulging in some fun evening games? The world of gaming requires focus and undivided attention.  Imagine if you could harness this same level of dedication and apply it to solving real problems at work, developing products or services or simply learning a new skillset.

Here’s how you can simply press play on the following board games to enhance your leadership quotient at work.

Power Grid

Train your mind to see the big picture with Power Grid, the English language edition of the multiplayer German game called Funkenschlag. Each player in the game represents a company that owns power plants to supply electricity to cities. It tests you on parameters like how well you use the available resources. The game helps players hone important skills to sidestep hasty and wasteful decisions, which can cost the business dearly.

Risk

Invented by French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse, Risk is one of the most popular board games of all times. It assesses the players’ diplomatic skills as they form alliances with other players in a bid to expand their political territory. No man is an island, this is especially true at a workplace with multiple minds, opinions and ideas. Develop your professional relationship-building skills to organise a collaborative, harmonious team that works towards a common goal.

Agricola

Learn to become a masterful juggler, finding your expert balance and rhythm with Agricola. The focus here is on a middle-of-the-road strategy. Players are farmers (like in the popular social network game Farmville) who tend to their fields, sowing, ploughing, collecting wood, building stables for their animals, and expanding their farms to feed their families. Narrow vision is penalised, balanced approach rewarded.

Pandemic

Are you a good team player? Pandemic will help you find out as you discover cures for diseases that threaten mankind with extinction. Victory in this game (which seems straight out a Robin Cook novel) depends on cooperation rather than competitiveness. As you don the roles of a dispatcher, medic, scientist, researcher, operations expert, or quarantine specialist, the game will test your ability to negotiate effectively and put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Chess

Pure tactical brilliance and competent problem-solving – these are qualities that define a great leader. And there’s no game like Chess to help you hone those skills. Believed to have been derived from Chaturanga, a 7th century AD Indian board game, this popular board game teaches you to make the right moves to tap into lucrative opportunities. After all, a worthy leader is someone who can predict his opponent’s strategies and goes in for the kill. Checkmate!

Cashflow 101

Cashflow 101 is perfect for all start-up owners, especially self-funded ones. It will teach you important lessons in financial accountability. Buy, sell, invest, and raise your monthly income to accumulate a cash flow of $50,000. Financial statements replace conventional score cards so you know where your money is going. Sound financial planning is the key to success – in the game as well as at work.

Rubik’s Cube

This 3-D combination puzzle – named after its inventor Ernő Rubik, Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture – was originally advertised as having over three billion combinations with only one solution. Rubik’s cube helps you analyse your response-rate to problems. Do you resolve obstacles calmly by identifying step-by-step solutions? This is a great game to train your mind to think like a leader.

To sum up

These board games are an entertaining way to hone leadership qualities that’ll help you become a game changer at work. How about introducing a fortnightly game night at office? Besides being great stress-busters, these are effective tools for team-building too. Without further ado, let the games begin!

5 Global Trends that are Disrupting Businesses in 2019

Business How To’s

05 September 2019

5 Global Trends that are Disrupting Businesses in 2019

  • Posted by Awfis Editorial

We are living in a dynamic world, all thanks to disruptive trends that are frequently redefining the way we interact with it. It goes without saying that this has a significant impact on businesses; competition is growing manifold every minute in the face of volatile market conditions and fickle consumer demands. Curious to know all that is dictating the way businesses function in 2019? Here are 5 major trends that are here to stay.

Corporate and start-up collaborations

Large corporations are increasingly realising the enormous potential of start-ups in terms of predicting and adapting to disruption. Plus, coworking spaces are also enabling more collaborations between corporates and start-ups by bringing them under one roof. This growing trend is especially true for start-ups with a highly specialized focus as they are more likely to face domain-specific challenges early on in their journey as compared to large organizations.

A case in point is the collaboration between Coca Cola and Wonolo, an on-demand stocking platform, to streamline its supply chain. This reduced Coca Cola’s stocking costs by 75% per outlet and increased its coverage 25-fold, while Wonolo raised $5.7 million in funding.

Mobile-first technologies

Everything digital is going mobile-first, be it products, services, or even communications. In fact, mobile phones have long surpassed desktops as the primary way to access the internet. A recent CIODive report revealed that up to 70% of web traffic happens on mobile devices. And companies have started recognizing the potential of mobile phones in digital transformation. Flipkart’s progressive web app is the company’s second-largest channel in terms of transactions and attracts over 70% of new customers!

Phygital experience

Whether the Internet of Things (IoT) will redefine consumer experience remains to be seen, but it certainly has introduced the world to phygital experience. The opportunities this presents are immense; several industries will no longer be the same as we know them today. The US jewelry retailer, Tiffany & Co., has already integrated the phygital experience in its stores with an Engagement Ring Finder app that allows shoppers to use the camera in their mobile device to preview how different rings will appear on their beau’s finger.

Digital empathy mapping

Empathy mapping is a key tool to analyze and anticipate behavioral shifts among customers. Traditionally, empathy mapping involved a group of marketers brainstorming to map out customer journeys with post-it notes. However, the growing adoption of digital platforms is rapidly optimizing the process, making it cleaner and more efficient. Data is a crucial aspect of empathy mapping, and given the vast amounts of data, businesses deal with nowadays, digitizing the process only makes more sense. A clear example of this can be seen in UI/UX design, where designers are leveraging empathy maps to understand user preferences and enhance their experience.

Social awareness

Consumers today have become more socially aware and prefer to subscribe to products and services that resonate with their world view. In fact, millennials are worth $1 trillion in consumer spending and 73% of them prefer sustainable goods. As such, there has been a growing trend of companies adopting renewable materials and greener practices in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint. The automobile giant, Ford Motors, serves as a great example. The Repreve seat fabric used in the company’s vehicles is made from fibers derived from recycled plastic bottles, helping displace over 5 million plastic bottles from landfills.

Conclusion

Technology is continuously blurring the lines between physical and digital and is ushering an era underpinned by innovation. These are the times when flexibility can make all the difference when small companies can very well break monopolies. Only time will tell how these trends impact the global business landscape. But one thing’s for sure, these trends will continue to drive innovation for the foreseeable future!

How Dropbox Grew from a 2-person Startup to a Billion Dollar Enterprise

Business How To’s

27 August 2019

How Dropbox Grew from a 2-person Startup to a Billion Dollar Enterprise

  • Posted by Awfis Editorial

Who hasn’t heard of Dropbox, right? The cloud storage giant provides services to over 500 million people across the globe and generates billions of dollars as annual revenue. Well, did you know that it began as a two-person startup? Read on to know the incredible success story of Dropbox.

The birth of a million-dollar idea

Dropbox founder Drew Houston was a tech prodigy who started coding when he was just 5 years old. The idea for Dropbox was born in 2007 when Houston was on a bus ride and suddenly realized that he had forgotten his pen drive, which had important files on it. The incident left him so frustrated that he pledged to solve the problem once and for all. And the idea for Dropbox was born!

The evolution into a business

With the help of Y Combinator, a startup accelerator, Dropbox received its initial funding of $1.2 million from Sequoia Capital in 2007. However, there was still a lot of work to be put in to get the product right. Dropbox was launched in 2008, a year after it received its initial funding.

Initial challenges

When Houston had taken his idea to Y Combinator, even though his pitch was well-received, the accelerator promised admission only on one condition – Houston needed to find a partner within two weeks. He turned to his alma mater, MIT, where he found Arash Ferdowski who was more than willing to drop out from college after seeing a demo video that Houston had put together.

Soon after the launch, Apple expressed interest in Dropbox with Steve Jobs even scheduling a meeting with Houston to buy the product. When Houston rejected the offer, Jobs said something on the lines of “Well, we’re just gonna have to crush you guys”! 10 years or so later, Dropbox is still going steady with a net worth of $8 billion despite cutthroat competition from Google Drive and Apple’s iCloud, all thanks to Houston’s unfaltering determination to build and nurture his own company.

Disrupting the market

Dropbox disrupted the market as soon as it launched. While there were several applications that enabled cloud storage, none of them were as stable, seamless, and robust. However, the challenge still lay in attracting as many users as possible to keep the venture profitable in the long run. Initially, Dropbox went for an outbound marketing strategy, investing in pay-per-click and PR campaigns. Unfortunately, this failed miserably, since the keywords they were bidding on were way too expensive.

This is when Dropbox focussed on adopting a consumer-first approach, going where the users were to build its own community and generate word of mouth.

Building a community

Initially, Dropbox had launched a private beta program while it was still in the development stage to generate interest in the product and gain valuable feedback to better the product. This helped Dropbox generate significant word of mouth and they capitalized on it by starting a referral that incentivized both, the recommenders and referrals with extra free space. They also rewarded their social media followers with 125 MB of extra free space. This simple initiative increased the number of new users by a whopping 60%!

Another key game changer was the use of a signup-driven homepage with clear layout and demarcations. It also had a 2-minute tutorial video to guide users through the product. This not only made the intent of the home page pretty clear but also helped anchor interest by showcasing how simple, effective, and beneficial the product is.

Conclusion

The key contributor to Dropbox’s success was that it solved a very basic problem. It thoroughly understood its users and the needs they had. A lot of users around the globe had already grown wary of carrying portable storage devices and wanted something that could solve their storage issues. Dropbox addressed the issue head-on by making cloud storage a simple, secure, and hassle-free experience. In the words of Drew Houston himself, “People do not choose Dropbox because it has this much space or gigabytes. They choose it for the experience.”