Hiring an Incubation Manager? Use this Checklist to Identify the Right Person!
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Incubator Managers play a crucial role in how a startup evolves through its initial days. An incubation manager’s skills can make or break startups’ potential and future... In short, they are responsible for guiding their startups towards sustainability and investability. Since they are the highest-touch interface between startups and the incubation, they play the most important role in determining the incubation program’s success.
So how do you find the best, hire the real beast?
Let’s start with understanding the beast
The DNA: Startup Experience + Empathy
If your incubation manager hasn’t run a startup before, there’s a good chance that founders in your cohort will not respect him/her. The person should have founder experience or should have at least been an early team member in a startup. They should come with their own war stories and battle scars, and know the struggles first-hand. Only then will they be able to empathize and work well with your cohort members. Experience in running even a traditional business (not a startup) makes a candidate much more attractive than one who has no entrepreneurial experience.
The Brain: Growth Mindset + Dot Connector + Teacher
Growth Mindset is a fancy term for the ability to learn new things and unlearn old things, fast. The startup world evolves fast, and you need someone smart, who can keep abreast of every new trend, and can analyze every new startup objectively. Moreover, they should be able to connect the dots between different ideas, and explain complex ideas to stakeholders easily, since they will need to teach a lot of different concepts to inexperienced founders. A good way to test this quality is to ask them to explain any recent business tech, to a 5-year-old.
The Body: Energy + Execution
A good incubator/accelerator is a fast and chaotic workplace. There’s always something going on - events, workshops, pitches, meetings etc. Moreover, every startup always has a burning issue that they need help with. Your incubation manager needs to have the energy and stamina to address multiple issues, switch contexts quickly, and oversee the execution of a variety of activities, without letting anything slip. One way to test for this is to ask them to explain their time management system - how they plan their day and split time between various priorities.
The Upbringing: Diverse Experiences + Community Connections
You want your startups to view the incubation manager as a go-to person for anything. Founders are always looking for investors, customers, mentors, experts, potential hires etc. The more diverse experiences and exposures the manager has, the more sectors they understand, and the more connections they can exploit to help your cohort members. A good way to test this is to do a rapid-fire round asking them if they know someone who can help with X (where X is a list of different areas of subject matter expertise).
The Ability To Lead The Tribe: EQ + Charisma
Startup entrepreneurs can be a tough lot - they come with stubbornness, a know-it-all attitude, and attention deficiency. Your incubation manager should have the soft skills and EQ to deal with them tactfully - someone with iron fists in velvet gloves. They should radiate positive vibes and have the charisma to hold the attention and respect of founders. They should be able to build trust with founders and be easily approachable in times of need. Similarly, they should also be able to quickly form constructive relationships with external stakeholders and build their reputable self-brand in the ecosystem. One way to test for this is to look for leadership experience, and to ask for instances where they handled conflicts with stakeholders.
The Reason To Live: Internal Motivation
This is perhaps the most important thing to look out for. Given how tiring, complex and chaotic this job is, your incubation manager will need tons of motivation to be able to wake up every day and look forward to showing up to work. External motivators like money, career advancement won’t work beyond a point. You need to find someone who derives meaning out of helping startups, someone who measures their success in the success of their cohort, someone who is driven by the fact that they are making a difference in this world by showing up to work every day with the same energy as their first day. One way to test for this is to see how long they have been active in the startup ecosystem.