National Business Incubation Association; Your source for knowledge and networks in business incubation

The skinny on staffing: Why and how to begin beefing up your team

by Meredith Erlewine

April 1999

Not long ago, NBIA revisited some of the staffing data we had collected for the 1998 State of the Business Incubation Industry survey. The fresh number crunching revealed that incubators with more than two staff also graduated more companies, and those companies created more jobs than their lean-staff counterparts. Now before you say, "duh," understand that the better results at larger-staff incubators don't appear to be a mere multiplier effect based on the number of clients served: While most create jobs at double the rate of small-staff incubators and graduate clients at five times the rate, they serve only about a third more clients. The bottom line is that helping clients achieve their highest potential takes people as many of them as possible.

The bad news is that more than half of the respondents had two staff or fewer and as a result must hustle to keep up the quality of service they offer clients. The average number of incubator staff was 2.8, but the median a more telling number was just two. The good news is that resourceful incubator managers have come up with ways to parlay two staff into 20, bringing in outside assistance to clients while they work to grow their programs and staff.

This resourcefulness also helps explain a strange anomaly: At incubators with the same amount of staff no two job descriptions look alike. While there is hardly a cookie-cutter approach to staffing, regardless of an incubator's focus or staff size, there are tasks that must be accomplished every day. So when you're looking at how to structure (or restructure) staff, studying job titles and descriptions from other incubator programs may be a good starting point, but it won't tell you everything you need to know. A better way is to look at the many tasks that need to be accomplished then begin to formulate how many and what kind of people you need to get the jobs done within budget constraints.

Staff at some incubators work within clearly defined areas, such as reception or marketing, but staff at other incubators have job duties that hop all over the job-duty map. With these duties in mind, a manager or board of directors can decide what tasks the staff needs to accomplish and what division of labor is the best approach. But first it helps to understand some basic differences between small and large staffs.

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Keywords: organizational structure, staffing -- incubator

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