What’s the better path to success: be part of a group or go at it alone? For many entrepreneurs in the tech space, being part of something larger has helped them get their businesses off the ground more quickly and smoothly. Ultimately, an incubator can be the perfect bridge to make the big step from idea to execution.
Incubators, which are taking root across the world, offer startups guidance and resources. In essence, incubators are home to angel investors, venture capitalists, and others who are able to mentor entrepreneurs. Many also offer tangible resources such as accounting assistance, office space and legal guidance. Having this business infrastructure in place allows the startup to focus on what matters most–the core business (and not the mundane, day-to-day administrative responsibilities).
As a member of a specialized incubator myself, I’ve reaped many benefits. My company is a spinoff of two European online advertising agencies, and we’re both part of the same business accelerator. (A note on accelerators vs. incubators: Although incubators and accelerators both help businesses grow, incubators assist companies in their infancy, whereas accelerators guide organizations through future expansion and development.)
One of the biggest benefits of being part of an incubator is the ability to tap into a strong network of business partners. In my case, I can say with certainty that several of our current media and tech partners wouldn’t have worked with us if we had just been out there on our own. Some required large financial commitments, while others considered it too risky to work with a 1-month-old startup. However, we were able to overcome those obstacles since we were part of an incubator.
A powerhouse network can also be beneficial from a public relations perspective. There is only so much you can do as a startup with a limited marketing and PR budget, but, for us, being part of a group of companies has helped us gain traction and step into the spotlight. This, in turn, has also strengthened our ability to scout leads and opportunities.
As a technology company, it is important for us to frequently release new analytics and optimization capabilities. It’s even more important that we learn from client feedback to make our platform better. Our direct access to two other agencies within our accelerator has proved to be extremely beneficial and enabled us to do more aggressive product development and rigorous testing–something that would have been more difficult and time consuming if not for the incubator.
As any entrepreneur will attest, there are a lot of lessons that he or she has learned the hard way. Making errors and learning from mistakes is something startup founders own. However, imagine being part of a support system where you could learn from the mistakes of others before you made them yourself.
Our mentors have been entrepreneurs themselves and, as such, have been able to challenge and help further define our vision, strategy and roadmap. They weren’t able to do this because of a business school degree earned at an Ivy League school, but thanks to their personal experience in the trenches.
Of course, there will still be times when, despite the incubator, you will have to learn on your own. In our case, we were the first company in our program to consider international expansion. Ties to other tech startups in San Francisco or New York City didn’t exist and we found ourselves in unchartered territory. That said, any knowledge we acquire we can then use to benefit others within the incubator.
Being part of an incubator or accelerator can play a huge role in growing your startup. For us, it has jump-started our company and brought us to where we are today. We are now in the position to fly solo, yet we know we didn’t get here alone. The value that our mentors have brought to us has been instrumental to our success, and we look forward to helping other new startups succeed in the future.
What strategies have worked for you?
—Matthijs Keij is the co-founder and CEO of FlxOne, and previously co-founded Fresh Fruit Digital. He seeks to bridge the gap between technology and marketing, build a team with smart people, and enjoy the startup vibe and growth opportunity.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.