Knowing what you need, when you need it is both a skill and an art. As an entrepreneur, that holds true when trying to decide where you will conduct the master planning, strategy, ditch digging, sleeplessness, power naps, wiping of tears, and jumping for joy during your journey. While terms like “accelerators’ and “incubators” are used interchangeably by many, each has very clear missions in the classic sense. Throwing co-working into the mix offers a good overview of places to set up shop with special perks for entrepreneurs.
Accelerators: An accelerator is typically a 12-week program that supports rapid growth for startups, usually in the tech space. Most accelerators either have no specialization, meaning they accept tech ideas from all industries, or they have a singular focus, such as cloud computing or healthcare. The program we are running at Venture Hive called Launch Pad Tech is an economic development-based accelerator focusing on leveraging the existing strengths of Miami: healthcare, travel/hospitality and creatives. Most accelerators have one or two programs a year. Entrepreneurs typically do not pay to be part of these programs. Usually an accelerator is able to sustain itself by taking equity in the companies or having a fund attached. The support we received from the Downtown Development Authority and Miami-Dade Mayor Gimenez allows us to give no-equity grants to the companies. If you are considering applying to an accelerator, narrow your search to those that have a track record of success in developing companies that still love them after the program is over and have investment rounds and growth after leaving. If you can find one that is focused just on your industry, that is even better. Most accelerators make their acceptance decisions not just on the idea but the team itself, so having a strong technical co-founder is usually a necessity.
Incubators: Whereas an accelerator is an equity-based model, an incubator is sustained by charging the entrepreneurs rent or fees for services. And as accelerators cap their programs at 12-weeks where everyone is in a cohort together, companies at incubators may start and end at different times since there isn’t a set lockstep curriculum. Most use language around a company graduating from the incubator when certain milestones are met, which usually must happen within a two- or three-year period. If you are considering an incubator, spend time with the entrepreneurs as well as the sales team from the incubator and make sure your company will fit, considering the pace and intensity of the other firms, the culture of the space, and the personality of the program managers. Ask resident startups for examples of how the program has supported them. Since the only one I can reference are my friends at the EDC incubator at FAU in Boca Raton, we are launching the Venture Hive Incubator in May. Applications are now open at www.venturehive.co
Co-working spaces: Co-working spaces rent private offices, devoted desks (yours that no one else can use), or access to shared workspace. You will find a combination of freelance professionals and startups working and rental income is the key to maintaining the business. Services and activities offered vary greatly; some charge for classes open to both members and non-members, others have free events as a benefit of membership. When choosing a co-working space, you can be very selective since there are many options locally. Work out of each space for a few days. Do you like the people and the overall vibe? Are the owners nickel and diming you for every cent? Your ideal schedule may also come into play — if you work nights and weekends, check the event schedules if you want to concentrate on your business instead of being distracted by a class being conducted. Can you conduct meetings with clients in a private conference room? What is the parking and public transportation situation? Is the neighborhood representative of your brand? Pick where you think you will be the happiest and your business will thrive from being around such inspiring people!
Working from home: While you may have free parking, 24/7 access and a stocked fridge, getting out of your normal environment to join others who may provide inspiration and support is invaluable to most entrepreneurs. Starting a business is incredibly lonely, but every entrepreneur needs a network to make contacts, offer feedback, and be there for the ups and downs.
Running your startup from your day job office: Don’t do it! You will get caught and then there will be questions about using company resources to support your business and who owns what.
Knowing the options and nuances of offerings will ensure your experience lives up to your expectations for the health of your business and your physical and emotional well-being.
Susan Amat is founder of Launch Pad Tech and Venture Hive. Follow her on Twitter @susanamat.