In What Format Should You Collect the Data?

Above all, your request for company information should be simple and as short as possible. Most incubators launch their data collection efforts by e-mailing or mailing a survey. For more than fifteen years, Adele Lyons directed the Gulf Coast Business & Technology Center in Biloxi, Mississippi. Every year, she collected data for and disseminated an economic impact report.

“[I would send] a one-page survey with a cover letter explaining that the information is confidential, and that it would be reported only in aggregate,” she says. Lyons also would include a copy of the previous year’s report, so that the entrepreneurs could understand her end goal.

When David Cattey directed the Business Technology Cluster (now TechColumbus) in Columbus, Ohio, he would send a one-page spreadsheet via e-mail asking for about twelve things including sales, investment capital raised, R&D grants awarded, job creation, total employment, and licensing activity.

While some managers, like Cattey, send out a survey and collect the data in spreadsheet format, others provide entrepreneurs a list of the data they want and allow them to provide the information in whatever format they wish. “They each figure out their own format, and it becomes a habit while they’re in the facility,” Long says. He says most firms provide the data in Excel or QuickBooks format.

Managers say reminding entrepreneurs to provide the data, once it’s requested, is just part of the task. “[Our receptionist] probably gets only a third of her answers from the initial e-mail,” Robbins says.

Face-to-face follow-ups, according to many managers, produce the best results. “You can usually get a lot more done in that visit than with any other method,” Long says.

Surveys that will help you secure the data you need to track the ten basic metrics recommended by NBIA are available in the Downloadable Tools section.

Suggested wording for questions that will get the data points recommended by NBIA are available in the Suggested Metrics section.