How to set up a successful university start-up incubator

Isis Enterprise at the University of Oxford has set up incubator programmes
worldwide.  Here, Britta Wyatt gives a snapshot of successful programmes
and shares top tips for building an incubator.

There has been an enormous rise in start-up incubators, with nearly 1,200 incubation programmes in the US, and over 7,000 worldwide.

Incubators have been shown to increase the chance of a business succeeding after five years from 30 per cent to over 85 per cent.

University start-up incubators can support students and academics in developing entrepreneurial skills, and can accelerate the creation of new ventures through tailored support for early-stage businesses and ideas.
At their best, university start-up incubators can create a virtuous cycle of job creation, university-industry collaboration.  But is there an “ideal” model, and if not, what is the best flavour of incubator for your needs?

Building on our experience running our own incubator, Isis Enterprise recently conducted a best practice review of other university start-up incubators and accelerators.   Here, we share the top tips we’ve learned about setting up a successful start-up incubator.

Tips for setting up a successful start-up incubator:

Know your objectives
Is your aim to generate revenues, up-skill students and staff, provide links to industry, or demonstrate impact?   Incubators and accelerators can be structured in different ways, and the incubator structure should reflect the needs of the university and the student body.

Understand your clients
It is important test that your vision for the incubator service is aligned with users’ real needs.  Once you have identified your key stakeholder groups actively seek feedback via interviews, surveys or focus groups.  

Creative funding
University start-up incubators are often offered free-of-charge to university participants. But how can you make them sustainable? Consider how you can tap into corporate sponsorship, public funds, money from economic development agencies or alumni donations.

Building a business case
When building a business case for internal approval and attracting partners and funders remember that while long-term financial returns are a possibility, it is also useful to highlight the earlier impact and community benefits that can come from accelerating start-ups.  These include job creation, alumni engagement and impact figures.

Isis Enterprise helps clients build start-up support services, including incubators, accelerators, seed funds and entrepreneurship training.  We can support both new and existing programmes, with services including planning and programme design; staff training and programme delivery; entrepreneurship training and mentoring for start-ups; and commercialisation and licensing support. 

To find out more about working with us, please contact Britta Wyatt, Isis Enterprise:

Posted on Thursday, 07 May 2015 under University news

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