by Kathy Cammarata
In 1995, an NBIA Review cover story posed the question, "What does a self-sufficient incubator look like?" The not-so-simple answer that followed reflected the diversity of the business incubation industry in the mid-1990s. Definitions of self-sufficiency, strategies for achieving it and even belief in its value varied from one incubator to the next.
Today, with six more years of growth and development under its belt, the incubation industry is even more diverse, so we revisited the question of self-sufficiency. In doing so, the first thing we noticed was that a new question had taken its place.
Rather than talk about self-sufficiency, we now talk about self-sustainability. What's the difference? Self-sufficiency implies that an incubator requires no external subsidy to cover operating expenses. Although a worthy goal, this is unrealistic for some incubation programs, particularly those in underserved communities that may justifiably need outside support for many years. Many communities that support incubation programs consider it to be a worthwhile investment in their economic well being. Self-sustainability, on the other hand, does not rule out financial support from outside sources, making it a more realistic, but still laudable goal. A self-sustaining incubator is one that is on sound financial footing, with predictable, reliable sources of funding.
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Keywords: budget -- incubator, financial management -- incubator, funding sources/fundraising -- incubator, self-sufficiency, self-sustainability, sponsor, subsidy
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