Become Part of the Larger Story

While individual incubation program impacts, such as Clark’s and Funchess’, are impressive, SCE’s Farrar asserts that aggregating the entire industry could demonstrate convincing proof of its collective impact.

Mark Long, president & CEO of the Indiana University Emerging Technologies Center in Indianapolis, Indiana, believes it is important for industry practitioners to think about the impact of the overall industry – beyond the number of companies and jobs created at individual programs. He cites the example of the professional sports industry as an economic development favorite of some cities.

“Why do so many cities want to attract pro sports to their towns? It’s because of the trickle-down effect it creates,” he says. “Incubation is no different. Collection of [impact data] can show that twenty companies employing five people each is more than just one hundred jobs with decent salaries. These people buy homes, eat at local restaurants, shop at local malls, and on and on. It has an impact on the economy as a whole.”

Imagine the story we could tell about our industry if NBIA could gather impact data about individual programs, aggregate it, and report out on it. Would that not increase the industry’s clout and political visibility?

“If there were a standardized reporting method and NBIA could tabulate the data – just as we do with our clients – it would be good for the industry, good for the association, and ultimately good for individual incubators,” says Joel Wiggins, CEO & president of the Enterprise Center of Johnson County in Lenexa, Kansas. “So many more individuals and organizations could be more supportive of the industry as a whole.”

When NBIA attempts to ask impact questions on industry surveys, however, most are left unanswered, presumably because respondents aren’t tracking that information. If the majority of incubators tracked just a few key metrics (in addition to the data they need locally), NBIA could begin to demonstrate industry-wide impact. In order to make that happen, two critical conditions must be present:

  • Incubator managers and sponsors must buy into the process of tracking impact and commit to participating.
  • The majority of incubation programs must track a core set of common metrics and measures.

This toolkit is a first step toward realizing this vision.

It’s critical to give your stakeholders the outcome data they want. But just because your sponsors aren’t interested in some data points doesn’t mean you shouldn’t collect them. When incubation programs track only what is required in their local situation, it doesn’t help the industry demonstrate success and value.

“Managers who are only interested in ‘me me me’ detract from the industry’s ability to thrive,” says Skip Farrar, manager of business development at Southern California Edison, a public utility in California. “What works for one person is not necessarily a model that can be duplicated for another, and thus doesn’t move the industry forward.” If the industry wants to remain strong, it must have a unified voice.

Plus, you never know when you might be approaching a new funding source that wants data you don’t currently need to track. For example, if a potential new partner wants to know about a metric you don’t usually report, it won’t be easy to ask clients to report out to you on five years’ worth of activity. But if you’ve been tracking that information already, you can quickly report out on historical data. Sticking with some basic data points will ensure that you have your bases covered when that day comes. Visit the Suggested Metrics page to see the data points that NBIA recommends every incubator track.