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The worst mistake I ever made: We took on more clients than we could handle!

June/July 2009

Opening a new incubator or moving an existing one to a new location can be an overwhelming task in itself. But if most clients are at the same stage of growth, requiring excessive input and aid, the strain on the incubator could nearly topple the program.

Evan Jones, director of @Wales Digital Media Initiative in Cardiff, United Kingdom, experienced too much of a good thing when the incubator first opened. A well-publicized opening resulted in the incubator reaching almost-full capacity by day one. The sudden influx of clients caused a plethora of problems for the young incubator.

“All of our clients were in similar states of development, all new companies, all needy,” Jones says. “We were completely swamped with requests for information, advice, partners, support and follow-up work while at the same time trying to sort out new building issues.”

Because the program was so new, the staff hadn’t had the opportunity to prepare a list of frequently asked questions. This kept the IT crew incredibly busy with basic questions and requests. In addition, Jones was the only one who had previous experience with incubation. These problems – coupled with the challenges of becoming familiar with the new building and its technical aspects – caused a serious strain on both clients and incubator staff.

Since his experience, Jones has heard of others who have attempted to move in multiple clients at once. “I’m sure there are some incubators that can do it, but failing to properly manage the initial demand was a huge mistake that nearly earned us a very bad name for poor support,” Jones says.

Although @Wales eventually got the situation under control, it took about two years before clients were staggered at different stages of development to avoid an overflow of support needs.

Jones remembered this lesson when @Wales moved into a larger facility. “When we opened a much larger incubator, we did so gradually, moving in just one client the first month, and then moving over one from the smaller incubator we were closing,” he says. “It went much more smoothly.”

By slowing down the transition into the new facility, Jones made sure that the incubator was fulfilling its commitment to clients and working through building issues. Jones’ advice for preventing similar problems is to keep things under control by not moving too quickly. “Pick carefully which clients you will move in first and stagger the move,” Jones says.—Brittany Timmons

Keywords: clients selection/admissions, entrance policy

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