What is the startup incubator of today? It is a safe space for uncertainty. An incubator is no longer concerned only with doling out advice on Porter’s five forces or providing connects to Softbank’s Vision Fund or offering AWS credits. It does all of the above because that is the minimum expectation. But it does (or is supposed to do) something more. It needs to cater to those with ideas and to those with the money to bankroll ideas while actively testing the known unknowns and unknown unknowns of business growth.
Entrepreneurs should not require incubation. Having an innate desire to convert an idea into a sustainable business that a large number of people admire and actually making it happen is a great feat. And so many people do it. But not everyone gets to the zenith – most remain small. So, what gives? It is a mix of mindset, skill, timing, network, money, market need, luck, and many more factors. In other words, there is extreme uncertainty. So much so that willingly choosing the life of an entrepreneur is akin to masochism. Unless they (the entrepreneur) are one of those people who tries out everything under the sun by themselves, they choose external help. They seek refuge in a place that understands, appreciates, and helps overcome uncertainty while making it look cool.
Investors need entrepreneurs and not the other way around. Because having money can be due to inheritance, but pursuing that one game-changing idea to its fruition requires a unique creative madness. Venture capitalists have narrowly defined theses – this is to help them find such creative genius diamonds amidst many ordinary rocks. Meanwhile, corporate investors need a lab to experiment with inter- and cross-disciplinary ideas that are too wacky to be carried out in their own innovation departments. And philanthropic donors appreciate an outlet at arm’s length, which lets them systematically roll out interventions that alleviate poverty or increase the standard of living. Most funders can do by themselves many things that an incubator does for them. Yet, they turn to this semi-permeable membrane because they get an osmosis of quality solutions.
We live in a world grappling with multiple crises: a pandemic that is still around, a reckless war, a likely global recession, and the runaway train called climate change. Sustainability no longer remains a buzzword and diversity & inclusion are not just feel-good elements. They are at the core of the startup incubator of today. When it addresses the challenges of its immediate surroundings or contributes to the nation’s infrastructure or helps overcome a global emergency, today’s incubator becomes greater than the sum of its individual parts. It also creates entrepreneurs who can solve for the future.
What will the startup incubator of tomorrow look like? It will carry a digital avatar that allows hyper-experimentation of all unknowns to every human being in any corner of the globe, without the pre-requisite of institutional credentials, prior experience, or socioeconomic status. The only requirement? An obsession.
– Sanchit Waray, AVP Insights and Analysis, NSRCEL