Challenges in Tracking Graduates

In preparing this toolkit, NBIA found that most incubation programs – even those that do an excellent job of collecting current client data – do not track their graduates. Why? Because it’s difficult to do, for a variety of reasons:

  • It’s more time-consuming than collecting data from on-site firms. You can’t just go down the hall and ask for the data, and sometimes companies have moved or can be hard to find. “I would say the most likely [reason for not tracking graduates] is that we lose track of them,” says Jim Robbins, principal with Business Cluster Development and founder of the Software Business Cluster in San Jose, California.

  • In some cases, incubator or company principals have changed, requiring extra legwork. “Transition on either side can be difficult,” says Joel Wiggins, CEO & president of the Enterprise Center of Johnson County in Lenexa, Kansas. “New incubator managers don’t have strong relationships with previous incubator graduates. And new leaders of incubator graduate companies don’t usually know the incubator managers.”

  • Some graduates don’t feel obligated to share data about employment and revenues, or they’re concerned about what you might do with the information. If they feel put upon, explain to them that public investments paid for some of the services they received while in the incubator, and that in order for you to continue helping other similar companies, you have to demonstrate the return on those investments. If they are worried about disclosing sensitive data, assure them you will not share individual responses and will report out only in aggregate. This information should not be news to graduate companies if you began having this conversation with them when they first applied for admission to the incubator and continued it throughout their tenancy.
Tracking impact data for five years after a firm graduates is sufficient to demonstrate persistency in the market. Many managers stop tracking then because persistency has been demonstrated and, beyond that point, it becomes increasingly difficult to obtain the data.

There is no question that it’s important for individual programs and the industry as a whole to be able to demonstrate the success of incubator graduates. The industry relies on individual incubator managers to collect the data that will prove the value of incubation.