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“Skunk works” – independent research and development operations of large companies or corporations – can be valuable incubator clients. They require fewer basic services while providing guidance for other clients and bringing prestige to an incubation program. Learn how to effectively incorporate skunk works into your incubation program.

Skunk works: When corporations innovate in incubators, everybody comes out smelling sweet

by Corinne Colbert

April 2008

Most incubator clients are start-up or early-stage companies founded by entrepreneurs eager to make their mark in the world (or at least earn a living from their own business). But not all clients fit that mold.

Sometimes large, well-established companies will set up a separate, independent department to develop a new product or service. The idea is that by freeing a team from normal company bureaucracy, it can innovate better. Such operations are known as “skunk works” (see “Why do they call it ‘skunk works’?”).

Skunk works should not be confused with corporate spin-outs, which are completely separate legal and business entities. Skunk works are intended to return to the home company when their product or service is completed. In some cases, though, a skunk works may turn into a corporate spin-out. Or it may be an advance operation for a corporation that wants to expand into a new market.

Hosting a skunk works can be as close to easy money as an incubator manager can get, say those who have worked with them.

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Keywords: effective communication, funding sources/fundraising, marketing and promotion, partnerships -- organizational/corporate, sponsor, stakeholder development, stakeholder relationship management

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