July 24, 2017

Viewpoint: Incubators need local support

Joe Bush

In response to the closing of TechSandbox, WBJ polled its readership about their perception of how industry should engage with business incubators. Or at least the question posed was, "If your company chooses to sponsor an incubator or startup, are you more likely to look locally or to Boston and Cambridge?" The multiple choice options were:

• Boston-area incubators, because of the variety of startups and the innovative culture they've created.

• Local incubators, because we should be working towards building our own innovative culture out here.

• Whatever incubator is most in-line with our industry regardless of geography.

• Whatever incubator has the best track record of creating successful companies.

While I love the interest in incubators, I think you may be asking the wrong questions. As director of the Worcester Clean Tech Incubator I know that incubators have an inherently local sphere of impact and drive investment and economic activity into the surrounding region. The strength of an incubator is the community it supports and the engagement of strategic partners, entrepreneurs and mentors.

Sponsorship by a company is a rare event among startups – a company-sponsored startup will often be given space at the company itself. Company-sponsored startups don't have the same risk profile entrepreneurs in an incubator face. So the questions you ask may have been asked of the wrong audience.

The communities supporting entrepreneurs, startups and incubators are defined by those who take an active role of engagement necessarily constrained by proximity. This has two implications. 1) We as a community must go out of our way to support the entrepreneurs around us, regardless of their sector. Any local success will in turn drive the community as a whole. 2) As a region, we must coordinate our existing assets, thereby continuing to build the community's established strengths.

One of the greatest values sponsors and ecosystem supporters of all kinds get from participation in places like MassChallenge is a spotlight within the local entrepreneurial community. This gives corporate partners an opportunity to engage and build meaningful relationships with the local business landscape of the future. Sponsors often engage in these ecosystems so they can learn about the future of their own industries and identify opportunities to leverage their existing assets.

At WCTI, we focus on three types of engagement with our members to help drive success. 1) Physical assets, from offices and computers to electronics testing equipment. 2) Business services and mentorship. 3) Targeted programing and business development. The first two are relatively easy to do. The third area is the toughest, but brings the most value to all involved.

I challenge us to work together to frame our capabilities in a cohesive manner and broadcast the message loudly that Central Mass has a robust ecosystem and is a great place to start and grow companies.

Joe Bush is executive director of the Worcester CleanTech Incubator.


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