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Business Incubator Series: Linda Darragh, ARCH New Business Incubator, University of Chicago – Illinois (Part 3)

Posted on Monday, Apr 25th 2011

By guest authors Irina Patterson and Vandana Upadhyay

Linda: In our executive MBA program, students who want to build businesses can go through classes and get mentors and industry experts, and then they pick their ideas.

They have their own competition that runs off on the side. Usually, the executive MBA students are a little older than our full-time students. They have been out in the corporate world and now they decide, well, maybe I want to actually start a business.

So, it is a great way to meet people to build businesses. Our website,, provides more details on the executive MBA program.

Irina: How do you process those applications in Singapore or other locations?

Linda: There are teams in London and Singapore that run it over there. So, people will apply to the class over there and then go through business strategy classes and they work with professors and mentors outside class and then there is a final competition.

In London there is a final competition; in Singapore there is a final competition; and the top ones of those come to Chicago at graduation and they all compete together there.

Irina: On average, how long do the entrepreneurs stay in your incubator?

Linda: The only ones who really use the incubator are our full-time students. Once they finish school many of them will move into other incubators or open their business because our campuses are about 10 miles south of downtown Chicago.

A lot of them want to move in the downtown area for the business. That is why we got this other incubator space that they can actually move into once they graduate. We allow a few to stay on a bit longer, but most of them want to move out.

Irina: How do you conduct your review of applications?

Linda: We have about 30 or 40 judges who read the business plans or the feasibility studies. They are VCs and they are from all over the country. They read it virtually and give us their scores. About six of us at the center, including professors, also read the plans and we give our scores.

There are probably 10 people who read each feasibility study to give the score to determine whether the company should move on.

We are starting a new survey of our past winners of  The Global New Venture Challenge entrepreneurs who cannot come to the incubator because they live in China to see how they have grown; how many people they have employed; how much money they have raised, and so on. But that survey is not completed yet.

Irina: What about those entrepreneurs who are not accepted for incubation?

Linda: A lot of them keep going with their projects. In a couple of cases, even though the students are at Booth, because their home country is in Latin America, the businesses are based in Latin America. They go back and work there. There are a lot of people that are trying to build businesses all the time and some get into the incubator and some don’t – but we are still available.

Irina: Do you have any other special initiatives besides the international programs?

Linda: We have just started our Social New Venture Challenge, which follows the same process, but it looks for business that may have sacrificed some financial returns for social returns and there are maybe some different funding and management issues. So, we have taken them into different tracks, and this program runs in parallel to the New Venture Challenge the same way.

One thing that is interesting right now is that we have got into this entire aspect of impact investing. It is channeling private capital into businesses that are creating both social and financial returns.

We have been commissioned by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Global Partnership Initiative to look at high-growth entrepreneurial businesses in Brazil, Colombia, Turkey, South Africa, India, and Indonesia to determine where is the pipeline of high-growth entrepreneurs and what kind of businesses they are creating. Do they serve the base of the pyramid, or are they cleantech or environmentally focused? What are the risks of investing in them? Why are people not investing in them?

This segment is part 3 in the series : Business Incubator Series: Linda Darragh, ARCH New Business Incubator, University of Chicago - Illinois
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