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Five trends shaping business incubators and accelerators

Business incubators and accelerators play an increasingly important role in commercializing innovations and supporting entrepreneurs to solve the biggest global challenges of today. Leading them effectively requires continuous learning that challenges us to renew our thinking.

Published : 12.02.2020

I was invited to be a speaker at global World Incubation Summit in November 2019 organized by UBI Global and share our best practices from Finland. The summit brought together over 300 people leading business incubators, accelerators and corporate innovation from over 30 countries. It offered a unique opportunity to gain different perspectives on how to develop incubators, benchmark, gain insight into the key trends, hot topics and challenges that the incubators are facing.

I picked up the following five key takeaways from the summit summarizing the most prominent trends affecting incubators:

  1. More professionalism
    As the number of business incubators has been rapidly increasing globally, the incubators are facing a need to lead their operations with more professionalism to stay in the market. Traditionally coaching and mentoring future entrepreneurs has been done quite on spontaneous basis amongs the acquaintences. It has required large contact network to engage successful entrepreneurs, business leaders and friends to volunteer for advising entrepreneurs and act as a role models. Current professional coaching means for example developing concepts and operative processes for coaching entrepreneurs, professional coaching trainings, certifications, CRM systems, success metrics and ROI calculations.
  2. Success redefined
    Traditionally, the startup ecosystem has strongly focused in raising funding, which is a widely used performance indicator for incubators as well. Incubators require more operational and qualitative metrics to learn and develop their operations. Professor Keynoor Purani points out that incubators need to have mechanisms to monitor startup progress and co-founder development for decisions of appropriate focus in terms of learning and their performance (Entrepreneur 2019).
  3. Emerging vertical incubators
    A vertical incubator brings together experts and startups aligned around a particular technology or industry. Vertical incubators are getting more interest from both investors and startups as they can be a hub for deep industry-related contacts, expertise and innovation.
  4. Two-way corporate – incubator – startup collaboration
    Corporate entrepreneurship, where established corporations team up with creative entrepreneurs, is a fast growing concept. Incubators have been filtering potential collaborations and providing a shortcut to reach the most promising startups. Startups used to pitch their ideas for corporations, but today two-way collaboration is trending. Corporations eagerly pitch in reverse their real-life business challenges for innovative entrepreneurs, in order to find solutions. Incubators role as a collaboration hub and fasilitator adds value for corporate entrepreneurship.
  5. Diversity more valued
    Diversity is a key driver for innovation. Ambitious entrepreneurs of all ages, genders, ethnic groups, nationalities and religions demand equal opportunity to  participate in the global innovation scene. Currently, underrepresented and undervalued segments of the society need better access to entrepreneurial support, role models and encouragement.

As critical global challenges are extremely complex, innovation benefits from a more diverse group of people doing the problem solving. The opportunity to pursue entrepreneurial dreams and to take an active part in making the world a better place should be everyone’s right.

Hannele Mennala M.Sc (Econ), Certified Business Coach and Professional Teacher, is Head of StartUp School incubator in Haaga-Helia University of Applied  Sciences. Hannele has an versatile background working at global corporations and as a StartUp co-founder in the area of business development, digital services, marketing and HRD. Hannele’s passions include coaching leadership style, innovative organization culture, entrepreneurship and continuous learning.