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Your incubator and the local SBDC: soul mates? If the chemistry is right, you may find yourself in a long-term relationship

by Meredith Erlewine

December 1999

Business incubators, by definition, coordinate an arsenal of business assistance services for their clients. At least a portion of those resources come from outside the incubator's walls, and for good reason. An incubator manager's job list is too long as it is – why squander time and money duplicating existing services when, with a little courting, you may be able to arrange a marriage of convenience at its best?

It's little surprise that some U.S. incubators put their local SBDCs on the top of the phone list, since the centers' services fall right in step with the incubation model: training, counseling and information on small business management (if you're not familiar with the SBDC program, you may wish to see "The ABCs of SBDCs," below, before reading on). By mandate, the assistance is free, but that's not even the point. The advice clients can get there can be as good as gold. And that's just one benefit that can accrue to the incubator and its clients. Cooperative SBDC/incubator marketing often gets better results than individual efforts, co-location increases foot traffic and collaboration can reduce everyone's workload. SBDCs like the fact that incubators offer a feeder market to their programs and may even offer help for certain SBDC clients.

But while the subject of SBDC/incubator relationships is one incubator manager's favorite topic, some may roll their eyes. Why? The presence or success of a relationship between an incubator and its local SBDC relates most often to the people involved and their skills, personalities and dedication. Even though the relationship can be a lasting marriage for some, others have experienced an affair-turned-sour or simply never hit it off.

"There is an unbelievable variance in the quality of SBDC managers, which means there is a correlating variance in the quality of the technical assistance they provide," explains Hugh Sherman, assistant dean at Ohio University's College of Business in Athens, Ohio. That same quality variance applies to incubator programs and managers, too. "A top-notch SBDC will be less than impressed with an incubation program that doesn't embody our industry's best practices," says Dinah Adkins, NBIA executive director. But everyone agrees it's a relationship that should be cultivated – and that's the operative word. At first blush neither partner may be perfect, but that can change.

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Keywords: business assistance provider, coaching clients, partnerships -- organizational/corporate, seminars and training programs, service provider network

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