Who Should Collect the Data?

This might sound a little too basic, but several managers mentioned that the person who collects the data on behalf of the incubator should be someone well liked and respected by clients and graduates.

“The person doing the asking should be someone who has done them lots of favors,” says Jim Robbins, principal with Business Cluster Development and founder of the Software Business Cluster in San Jose, California. At SBC, it is the receptionist who collects the data. “Every time someone wants something, they go to her. She’s someone everybody likes. It’s very intentional on our part that she do [the data collection].”

Obviously, the person who collects the data needs to have time to disseminate a request for data (perhaps accompanied by a survey), to track responses and send follow-ups, and to be on top of sending reminders. At some incubators this is the receptionist; at others it is the incubator manager.

At the Indiana University Emerging Technologies Center in Indianapolis, President & CEO Mark Long undertakes an input-output economic impact study every year, based on data the incubator collects twice annually. A graduate student intern collects data from clients and graduates one of those times, and Long and his administrative assistant split the duties six months later.

Long says that for the most part, having a graduate student intern collect the data is effective. “The graduate students are highly motivated to do a thorough job, and they are very creative and do great follow-up,” Long says. “They enjoy getting the data face to face, rather than just relying on phone or mail surveys, which ensures good data collection. They are up on all the latest survey tools, and they are persistent.”

Long says that one drawback of having an intern collect the data is that he sometimes has to jump in because the companies don’t feel obliged to respond to the student. “So I have to call them up and explain the importance of sending in the data,” he says.

Sometimes, if an incubator manager wants outcome data, she just has to collect it herself. That’s what Susan Barich, director of the Marina Technology Cluster in Marina, California, did. “I e-mailed a questionnaire to clients and graduates, and it was not difficult at all because I kept it simple and short.”