By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold
Mark: We receive about five or six applications a month.
Irina: How many out of those do you usually take in?
Mark: We have two programs. One is the resident program where we devote most of our resources. We also have an affiliate program. The affiliate program is for clients who aren’t residing here, maybe a bit earlier than we would like to see them, but we feel [they] have good potential. We don’t want to turn them away [so] we put them in our affiliate program. Of those five, perhaps one or two are not ready. One or two will go into the affiliate program. One or two might come into the incubator.
Irina: Would you tell us more how your affiliate program works?
Mark: The affiliate program provides all the services that we would provide as part of our resident program, except they don’t have an office here. They have the ability to use the conference rooms. They receive mentoring. They can attend the workshops.
They get a mailbox if they want one so they can have a professional address. They can use the conference rooms, so they don’t have to have meetings at Starbucks. It presents a more professional appearance. Again, they get the mentoring, but everything comes at a small price. We charge nominal fees for each service they choose, and they get to pick from a menu of options.
Irina: Once you accept a company for incubation, what is the next step?
Mark: One of the things that I believe in, in incubation, is more of a hands-off model than a hands-on one. My job, as an incubator manager, is not to run the company for them. They have to do the work. They have to do everything. We are here to provide advice, so we have an open door policy.
It’s driven by the entrepreneur. All they have to do is ask. They want a referral to a CPA? We will refer them to a couple of CPAs. Want referrals to attorneys? We will refer them to several attorneys. All of them will provide discounted rates for them.
They want to come to my office and talk for an hour? Come on down; we will talk for an hour. Want to bounce ideas back and forth? We can do that. So, the entrepreneur is in the driver’s seat. Or, you can say, they are sitting on the coach holding the remote. The idea is they have the control.
If they are looking for someone in the aerospace industry, who in the aerospace industry do you want to meet? And what do you want to meet them for? What do you plan on talking about? We will help them with their pitches. We’ll do a whole host of things, but it is all entrepreneur driven. They have to come and drive it themselves.
When we accept them, we do an entrance examination – if you want to call it that. Usually, if they get past me in terms of the application and couple of interviews, they go to an entrance committee.
During the entrance presentation, we are getting a feel for their milestones, what they need, and usually our mentors and advisors attend that presentation. Those who are interested in that industry. The match is made right then and there.
When they move in, of course, it is the usual paperwork involved. We try and make it easy. When they come in, we sit down again. We talk over what they want. Again, they are in the driver’s seat. We sit and talk and then we have formal – I guess semiformal – quarterly interviews.
We do annual reviews that are tied to their lease agreements. Their annual reviews will be a month or two before their leases are up for renewal. Then we have semiannual reviews as well, which are semiformal, I guess.
They’re presentations, but not as formal as the annual reviews. We want to know that they are making progress, they are growing. Our model is economic development, so our interest is in job creation as the number one metric.
From there, how can we help? Again, when the entrepreneurs come in, they tend to be a little nervous about an annual review. From our point of view, it is really about how we can learn more about your company so we can help you even more.