How to Collect
Regardless of the type of incubation program you manage, your evaluation process should focus on efficiency in terms of both execution and the administrative burden associated with data collection. Information is valuable, but it can also overwhelm a program, diverting resources from your core mission of supporting clients.*
Therefore, when you design your data collection plan, take
care to make the project manageable enough that you will follow through
with it year in and year out. Also be sure to make the questions you
ask your clients and graduates simple enough that they will answer them
year after year.
Most incubation programs take one of two general approaches to tracking impact:
- Do-it-yourself (DIY)
- Input-output modeling
Those who go the DIY route typically administer a survey and data collection
effort on a regular basis, then produce an aggregate report of the data.
The strength of these reports is that “what you see is what you
get” – without the addition of multipliers and extrapolation,
it’s easy to see direct impacts on local firms and local employment.
For many incubation programs, this simple approach provides everything
they need to report out to funders and the community.
Those who use the input-output approach collect data much like their DIY peers, then give the data to a consultant, university department, or government office that uses generally accepted modeling methodology to create an in-depth report of the program’s effects on the local economy. Models include the basic RIMS II model, available from the U.S. federal government; the more elaborate IMPLAN software; and the even more complicated (and more expensive) REMI software.** Business incubation programs that are interested in using multipliers to demonstrate indirect and induced economic impact should consult an individual or organization with expertise in using these input-output models to ensure accuracy (see Be Careful How You Spin It).
Examples of both the DIY and the input-output approach are highlighted in the Case Studies section.
Regardless of which approach you choose, you’ll need to collect data. Even if you’re hiring a consulting firm or university department to do a complex assessment of economic impact, they’re going to base that assessment on the data you collect from your clients and graduates.
* Adkins, Dinah, “A Report: Summary of the U.S. Incubator Industry and Prospects for Incubator Model Globalization.” Athens, Ohio: National Business Incubation Association, 2001.
** RIMS II stands for Regional Input-Output Modeling System II (www.bea.gov/bea/regional/rims). IMPLAN is available from Minnesota IMPLAN Group, Inc. (www.implan.com). REMI stands for Regional Economic Models, Inc. (www.remi.com).