The idea for early-stage companies to share facilities in a business incubator became popular in the late 1970s. In 1980, approximately 12 business incubators were operating in the United States. These incubators offered startups, entrepreneurs and small businesses the support, expertise and tools necessary to succeed in increasingly competitive markets. They're also driving high return on investment doing so.
A popular Connecticut study entitled Business Incubation: A Key ingredient to Economic Growth and Recovery, argued business incubators as a “best value” in economic development, based on low program costs and a high return on investment to communities. The ROI of public investment was calculated at $4.96 for every $1 of public operating subsidy.
Some incubators are located in an actual physical space designed for consistent, in-person training, support and networking. Others operate on an off-site or virtual basis, remotely serving start-up businesses independent of geographical location. The latter might be a little intimidating with a seeming lack of in-person support, but can offer new networks, relationships, and options that you won’t get anywhere else. With a number of highly successful, reputable offsite incubators available, I've evaluated a distributed handful. While by no means comprehensive, each of these offers a unique set of features and accommodations.
1. CSI Kickstart: Known for their mentorship, impressive toolbox spilling over with resources and the ability to connect projects with the right investors, possible investors, mentors and more, CSI has it all. The incubator offers everything from human resources to knowledgeable entrepreneurs with an in-house production company -- and even a virtual candy drawer!
2. 1M/1M: This global incubator is wholly digital and aspires to help one million entrepreneurs achieve one million dollars in annual revenue within the next four years. This will lead to up to ten million jobs. Based on online educational programming, you’ll experience video lectures and get connected with online strategies and mentors. Aspects of this virtual incubator are free, but only approved members can access the entire program.
3. eFactory: Based at Missouri State University, recipients are startups that aren’t physically nearby but are a good match for the program goals. Emerging businesses, startups and job creation are the goals of the eFactory. You can access the incubator program for support services, counseling, admin support and shared equipment. Mail services, virtual conference rooms and access to mailing lists and mentorship are at the heart of this program.
4. DreamIt Ventures: DreamIt focuses on the trifecta of the startup world -- startups themselves, investors and corporate innovators. It’s one of the 20 most active incubators in the country, DreamIt is all about helping entrepreneurs scale via securing capital and customers. The incubator also partners with brands and corporations to help with pilot programs and tech advancement. Top angel networks and venture capitalists also connect with DreamIt for a healthy startup ecosystem.
5. 500 Startups: Thousands of companies, over 3,000 founders and more than 50 countries have worked with 500 Startups to accelerate, grow, scale and get on the right track for long-term success. Known for their diversity in every which way, you’ll find 500 Startups projects around the globe from Mexico City to Miami and Seoul to Berlin. They invest in all types of startups (no niches here) and offer a four-month accelerator approach that provides hands-on learning, office space (if you’d like), mentorship and an investment of $100,000 for just 5 percent of a startup. It’s not technically all offsite, but with so many options around the world, relocating won’t be an issue for most.
6. Amplify LA: Focused on tech startups, Amplify LA understands that not all startups are equal -- and that means their goals and paths aren’t the same. Adopting a flexible approach is at the center of the program, with an accelerator customized to each project. There’s no catch-all calendar or required schedule for all. Instead, mentors watch a startup’s performance and offer support. On-site support in Venice Beach is an option, but with the flexible mentorship approach, mandatory requirements are slim.
7. Startx: If someone in your startup has a connection to Stanford, you can qualify for the Accelerator Program. Your connection can come from your undergraduate or graduate years, but only one person needs to have such a connection. Otherwise, on-site incubator options are available, including a visiting professorship.
Thinking of joining an incubator now? Startup adviser Peter Gasca recommends checking off five steps first. Many incubators will work with you, offering flexible support options if they truly believe in your startup and you seem like a good match. Ask questions, talk to former recipients if you can. See who the mentors are and if any of them are on your list of dream supporters.
You're bound to find your fit from there.