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Wisconsin association creates premier professional development effort for incubation community

by Dinah Adkins

April/May 2012

Of all North American state or provincial business incubation associations, Wisconsin recently initiated the most sophisticated professional development effort for its member incubators – one that could serve as a model for other regions.

The Wisconsin Business Incubation Association, with 70 members, has over the past three years written and obtained more than $420,000 in state and federal grants to raise funds to develop and implement a technical assistance and training program for a six-county regional incubator network and to develop a statewide videoconference network.

While the six-county network includes two counties in Illinois (a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant was awarded to ameliorate problems related to flooding and auto industry contraction in 2008-09 that affected both states), WBIA will use the videoconference systems to extend technical assistance and training throughout Wisconsin. The grantor “doesn’t mind if we extend services throughout the state as long as we’re meeting the needs of our target population and bringing value back to the region,” explains Therese Fellner, business development director for Gateway Technical College and WBIA president at the time the grants were written and awarded.

EDA awarded $220,460 to WBIA for a three-year project in the six-county area. Additionally, EDA awarded construction funds for new incubators in the two states (including 12 in Wisconsin). “With all that money coming in for incubator construction, it was sort of a double-edged sword,” Fellner says. “The Wisconsin Department of Commerce – now a public-private entity renamed the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. under Gov. Scott Walker – saw the feds supporting incubation and pulled back on funding individual incubators.” Instead, WEDC has shifted its interest to funding the association to build the network and help it improve incubation program efficacy.

Fellner wrote WBIA into the EDA grant as one of nine grant partners and as the lead entity for another $180,000 from WEDC to set up nine videoconferencing sites in WBIA member facilities. In partnership with NBIA, WBIA is offering its members access to a training program based on the national association’s Incubator Management Certificate Program and delivered via videoconference.

To achieve certification, all incubator managers will have to be NBIA members, but training will be provided in Wisconsin. NBIA Acting CEO Tracy Kitts is working with Wisconsin managers including NBIA board member Rick Roeser to assist with the training. Roeser is business development specialist with the Northwest Regional Planning Commission’s Wisconsin Business Innovation Corp. in Spooner.

Also included in the professional development program is a one-on-one mentoring and technical assistance effort. Both the training and technical assistance are managed by Thalia Mendez, former NBIA board member. (The grant picks up 50 percent of the time Mendez spends on these activities.) Fellner says that Mendez is currently managing technical assistance plans for the development of a student business incubator at Gateway Technical College and pre-construction for a new EDA-funded manufacturing incubator. The grant will fund up to 1,440 hours of technical assistance over three years, Fellner explains.

Improvements in incubator operations brought about by the professional development activities will be evidenced by both outcome data and results indicated by NBIA’s free online tool, Benchmark Your Incubator’s Practices,

The professional development effort has beena winning collaboration between the state association and NBIA. “Thalia suggested they not reinvent the wheel and partner with us,” Kitts says. “The best thing about working with WBIA is we have completely open and honest discussions about how to best serve the incubation professionals in Wisconsin and what WBIA and NBIA need to make that work. There’s lots of integrity with that group, and I really enjoy working with them.”

WBIA also is developing proposals to major corporations to underwrite professional development efforts for the state’s rural incubators including participation in NBIA’s Coaching Clinics and Training Institute. And beginning in 2013, WBIA will begin to send a member to NBIA’s Summit for Advanced Incubation Professionals.

The state association already provides NBIA conference scholarships to two members each year. Other WBIA efforts involve working with the Wisconsin Agricultural Innovation Center and the Wisconsin Food Business Information Network to provide services to new and existing kitchen incubators, as well as with Arts Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Intertribal Council to connect creative economy businesses to incubator programs and services throughout the state, Fellner says.

“The big picture is really about connecting the network of WBIA member programs, facilitating sharing of expertise through professional development and technical assistance, and
creating a structured, sustainable system of advocacy and understanding of industry best practices,” she says. Fellner also explains that the end goal now accords with WBIA’s new tagline: “Accelerating business and creating jobs.”

Professional development resources

NBIA ReviewNBIA members generously providing their suggestions for this list of resources include Rafael Garcia Moreira, Ingenio-Incubator de empresas, Montevideo, Uruguay; Charlie D’Agostino, Louisiana Business & Technology Center, Baton Rouge, La.; Karl LaPan, Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, Fort Wayne, Ind.; Lisa McCarthy, Upstart, Hamilton, New Zealand; Tim Strege, William Factory Small Business Incubator, Tacoma, Wash.; John Mercer, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology BADIR Program for Technology Incubation, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Donna Armstrong Lackey, The Burson Center, Carrollton, Ga.; Ed Hobbs, Toronto Business Development Centre, Toronto; and Joann MacMaster, Arizona Center for Innovation, Tucson, Ariz.

NBIA Member Listserv, Moreira: “It is a very valuable tool because it is down to earth advice that comes from real people in the field. … The best … ‘continuous education’ that I know, and it is also a BIG source of ‘collective knowledge,’ where we all build by the added contributions.”

NBIA conferences, training programs, Webinars and the Incubator Management Certificate Program, D’Agostino: “At the LBTC, we constantly try to offer professional development for our staff … [including having staff] work on obtaining NBIA certification.”

Books: Best Practices in Action: Guidelines for Implementing First-Class Business Incubation Programs, Revised 2nd edition, NBIA (2010), a top-seller that describes in detail 118 examples of incubator best practices, and A Comprehensive Guide to Business Incubation, second edition (2004), with 70 chapters on incubation topics, Moreira: “The NBIA library is a must.”

Web resources: Benchmark Your Business Incubator’s Practices,, a tool that permits benchmarking your incubator’s operation and a library of information that contains hundreds of pages of excerpts and Web links organized by 10 major topic headings; and NBIA Review archives,

Commercial press books
Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur (2010).

Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney, by Lee Cockerell (2008); leadership principles from the man who managed Walt Disney World resort operations for more than a decade.Cockerell:“It’s not the magic that makes it work; it’s the way we work that makes it magic.”

Different, Escaping the Competitive Herd, by Youngme Moon (2010). Strege: “Moon advocates creativity through purposely designed experiments in which individuals, teams or institutions seek break-through accomplishments from innovative methods.”

The Dream Manager, by Matthew Kelly (2007). Kelly: “An organization can only become the best version of itself to the extent that the people who drive that organization are striving to become better versions of themselves.”

Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time, by Susan Scott (2002). Scott: “If you were hired as a consultant to your own organization, what advice would you give?”

The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products That Win, by Steve Blank (2005).

If You Build It Will They Come: Three Steps to Test and Validate Any Market Opportunity, by Rob Adams (2010).

Leadership Is an Art, Max De Pree (1990). De Pree: “It seems to me that polishing gifts, such a crucial part of the work of the leader, could be called tuning oneself for life.”

Other training and leadership resources
Stanford University Executive Program for Non Profit Leadership, a two-week residential program designed for nonprofit leaders, LaPan: “It was outstanding. I was with 49 other nonprofit leaders from all over the world discussing issues, learning tools, applying knowledge, listening to speakers.”

Disney Institute classes on Quality Service, Brand Loyalty, People Management, Leadership and Organizational Creativity, LaPan: “I subscribe to the Disney philosophy of leadership that states every leader is telling a story by his or her actions.”

Training and Certification Program for Small Business Counselors, an APEC international training and certification program for consultants, counselors and others who assist entrepreneurs,

Entrepreneur Advisors, a business network and training program, Lackey: “Wonderful resources.”

Global Leadership Summit, founded by Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Association, Hobbs: “I was really shocked by how valuable this was.”

Also Web sites: Stanford University’s and JustSell’s MacMaster: “I appreciate Stanford’s candid videos from founders and thought leaders, and I like the Just Sell blogs, which trend toward communication and motivation (along with their quotes and other fun stuff).” SME Toolkit, MacMaster: “For templates, metrics, marketing/execution ideas, etc., to keep us and our business plan on track.”

And finally for training and tools: Startup Weekends,; Angel Capital Association,; State Science & Technology Institute,; Federal Laboratory Consortium,; Association of University Research Parks,; Association of Small Business Development Centers,; and SCORE,

Keywords: incubation associations, leadership development, professional development – general, seminars and training programs, technology/productivity resources

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