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Much has changed in incubation, and much has stayed the same, says Linda Knopp

October 2013

After 12 and one-half years, Linda Knopp resigned from NBIA in September.

It was an exciting and uncertain time. After a few years in which investors had poured money into Internet companies, many of which had neither business plan nor model that would lead to profit, dot-com had turned into dot-bomb. A teetering economy was, belatedly, looking for rationality. One place it could be found was in business incubation.

The National Business Incubation Association was receiving so many inquiries from the press and others that it decided to hire a publicist. The person it chose, in the early spring of 2001, was Linda Knopp, a freelance writer, former reporter and former employee of the American Council on Education, a membership organization representing colleges and universities.

“When I started, I was working in the development department,” she says. “We were leading up to the 2001 NBIA Conference, and there were lots of media calls. There were a lot of ‘Internet incubators’ back then, and reporters called us to ask about them.” Some were incubators as we know the term, while many were not. “There was some confusion about definitions, then as now.”

The 2001 conference, in San Jose, would be NBIA’s biggest ever. In just a few months, there would be the attacks of September 11 and, combined with the realization that much in the economy of the last few years hadn’t made much sense, the world and its economies were stunned.

“The one tangible effect of September 11 on NBIA was the Fall Training Institute,” says Knopp. “We didn’t know if people were going to feel comfortable traveling to it.” It turned out they were, and the event came off without a hitch.

In the coming months and years the economy would slow, dotcom-induced caution would set in, and the focus would change.

“As the Internet incubators closed and others consolidated, the calls became fewer. I told Meredith [Erlewine, then NBIA’s director of publications] that I’d be happy to do some writing.” The offer was accepted and a new byline joined NBIA publications. “There were four people in publications then, plus me,” she remembers. “We weren’t doing as much active PR, so I was writing more for the membership.” That change in focus would remain.

The organization has always been publication-centric, she notes. Longtime NBIA President and CEO Dinah Adkins contributed substantive articles to the NBIA Review and wrote books published by the organization, rather than the more common opinion and observation pieces undertaken by her successors. “She would proofread every publication, too,” says Knopp.

Those publications grew in number and scope. The organization entered into alliances to conduct research, such as the 2006 State of the Business Incubation Industry report and its follow-up in 2010. The 2001 Best Practices In Action: Guidelines for Implementing First-Class Business Incubation Programs was revised in 2010. During Knopp’s time at NBIA, the industry matured in many ways.

Yet much remains the same for a person charged with explaining and promoting business incubation.

“There are similarities,” Knopp says. “During the dotcom era, there was a lot of confusion about what was an incubator. We see that now in the discussion about incubators and accelerators. There’s a lot of confusion about for-profit accelerators and incubators.” But the business incubation message has gotten through. “You do hear that instead of just handing out money, accelerators have realized the need for mentoring and working with companies.”

Spreading the good word about business incubation now falls to others. In September, Knopp left NBIA after 12 and one half years to become associate director of communications at Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“They have a conference and a marketing brochure, news releases . . . I got there and said, ‘Hey, I know how to do this stuff!’” she says. —Dennis E. Powell

Keywords: NBIA Programs, NBIA Publications, people

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