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Assembling a strong advisory board is equivalent to building an arsenal of powerful assets for your incubation program. Unlike a board of directors, advisory boards have no fiduciary responsibility and their advice is nonbinding, but when you need an objective opinion or assistance establishing strategic networks, an advisory board can be invaluable.

Building effective incubator advisory boards

by Carol Kraus Lauffer

August 2011

Whether you're the CEO of a corporation or an incubator manager, you need outside expertise and advice to run a best-of-class program. Incubator advisory boards can help managers guide and evaluate clients, provide mentoring support, raise community awareness and provide access to resource networks. This outside assistance helps the incubator manager remain focused on providing client services and contributes to long-term program sustainability.

Advisory board roles

"Credibility, connections and counsel" are the most important contributions of an incubator advisory board, says Joel Wiggins, president and CEO of the Enterprise Center of Johnson County in Lenexa, Kan. "There are three categories of advisory board members: sleeves [those who roll up their sleeves and do the work], resumes [they know everyone in the community], and wallets [they help you to find the money]," Wiggins says. "You need all three."

Primarily, an incubator advisory board provides advice and counsel to incubator management and staff. Unlike a board of directors, which has a specific governance role and fiscal responsibilities, the advisory board is just as it's named, "advisory," providing advice on programs and services for client companies, marketing and generating deal flow for the incubation program, and sources of funding for the incubator.

Incubators operating under a host organization – such as a university or college, economic development program, city government or chamber of commerce – typically organize advisory boards because the program doesn't have a board of directors to help provide strategic direction, advice and oversight.

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Keywords: Advisory board – incubator, Best practices, Strategic planning

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