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Best practices pop quiz

Time to grab a No. 2 pencil – we're having a quiz! The following questions are designed to get you thinking about your incubator's strengths and weaknesses by assessing how well it follows industry best practices. Highly effective incubators make a commitment to incorporate best practices into their programs. They serve as models of well-organized, sustainable businesses; set clear goals; employ efficient, knowledgeable staff; and work closely with client firms to provide management and technical assistance tailored to emerging companies. The goal is to produce healthy firms that create jobs and wealth, strengthen the economy, commercialize new technologies and revitalize communities.

This pop quiz will help you brush up on industry best practices and prepare you for a more extensive look at your program's effectiveness. Then, in the April 2001 NBIA Review, NBIA will begin a three-part series to assist incubator managers and stakeholders in a more comprehensive evaluation of operations.

To find out how your incubation program measures up, print out the statements below. Use the following scale to evaluate each statement.

1=Strongly Disagree 2=Disagree 3=Neutral 4=Agree 5=Strongly Agree

1. Has a clear and concise mission statement.

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2. Has developed a strategic plan containing quantifiable objectives to achieve the program mission.

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3. Holds management accountable for achieving formal goals and objectives.

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4. Has developed and implemented a realistic business plan of its own.

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5. Could identify a replacement funder(s), if it were to lose a major funder, in order to continue operations at the same or a higher level.

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6. Is adequately staffed to meet the key needs of its clients.

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7. Strongly supports staff professional development.

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8. Sets staff salaries at a level necessary to attract and retain people capable of running a model program.

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9. Has written job descriptions for staff.

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10. Evaluates staff annually through formal reviews.

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11. Has management that keeps abreast of incubator industry best practices.

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12. Gives management bottom-line responsibility for incubator finances.

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13. Has agreement on and support for its mission statement from its board or other governing body and its management.

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14. Has a board, sponsoring agency or investors who recognize management's primary responsibility is to help incubator clients in order to ensure their success.

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15. Has a governance structure that contributes to rather than detracts from effective program operations and client service.

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16. Has sponsors and supporters capable of ensuring its continued operation and effectiveness.

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17. Selects only applicants that meet approved criteria.

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18. Has a facility appropriate to serve its clients and to encourage client synergies.

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19. Effectively utilizes new technology (the Internet, office productivity software, up-to-date computer hardware, etc.) to assist client development.

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20. Requires management to review client financial statements on a quarterly basis at minimum.

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21. Has a formal graduation policy requiring clients who meet certain benchmarks to graduate from the incubation program and requiring those that fail to meet these benchmarks within a given time period to leave the incubation program.

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22. Keeps elected leaders informed of its needs and achievements.

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23. Has the broad support and understanding of local real estate firms.

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24. Engages in wide-ranging effective marketing of its program and achievements, and thus is highly visible within its service area and is viewed as the premier entrepreneur service organization.

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25. Has developed an effective network of local business service providers and other resources.

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26. Evaluates the contributions of members of its service network to ensure high-quality service to all its clients.

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27. Maintains effective strategic alliances and collaborations with almost all other potential partners in its service area.

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28. Has close ties to one or more post-secondary educational institutions and/or research institutions within its service area.

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29. Maintains a management information system and regularly (annually) collects statistics on program activities (e.g., number of participants in training programs, business plans reviewed, etc.) and other information necessary for ongoing program evaluation and improving its program effectiveness.

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30. Incorporates program changes as the result of thorough, systematic evaluation.

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31. Regularly (annually) collects information on client outcomes.

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32. Requires management to review the incubator's financial status on a monthly basis.

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33. Subjects its finances to an annual outside audit.

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34. Is certain it is in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.

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Pop Quiz Results

If you scored 144-170 points (85% to 100%) …
give yourself a gold star! You have attended to all the key components of a best practices incubator. Even if you didn't give yourself top marks in a few areas, you have identified where your program needs attention and can tweak trouble spots.

If you scored 119-143 points (70% to 84%) …
keep up the good work! Add a few more best practices to your program, and your high-performing incubator will move to the head of the class. To help ensure your success, be sure to define specific goals each year and make a commitment to meeting them.

If you scored 97-118 points (57% to 69%) …
brush up before the final. Your incubator needs some work, but you have a good basis for a best practices program. Take advantage of business incubation training, publications and networking opportunities within the field for ideas on how to update or upgrade your operations.

If you scored fewer than 97 points (less than 57%) …
see me after class. Your program may be in danger of losing stakeholder and community support, and you need to take corrective action. If your incubator is underfunded, explore ways to network more than one incubator together to create economies of scale. Consider calling in an incubator turnaround expert to assess your weaknesses and suggest solutions.

Keywords: evaluation -- incubator performance

Contact NBIA

Phone: (740) 593-4331
Fax: (740) 593-1996
PO Box 959
Athens, OH 45701-1565
info@nbia.org