5 Incubation Trends for Startups to Expect in 2021 Amidst the Unpredictable Environment
This article was published in the education page of India Today https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/featurephilia/story/6-incubation-trends-for-startups-to-expect-in-2021-amidst-the-unpredictable-environment-1749653-2020-12-15
Even during economic downturns and times of crisis, entrepreneurs continue to adapt and build innovative solutions. Likewise, with entrepreneurship enabling organizations such as incubators — it becomes just as important to rapidly adapt and provide extended support to the founders, safeguarding them against such uncertainties.
Currently, as entrepreneurs around the world are habituating their businesses to the new reality, ecosystems like incubators and startup enablers are facing a new challenge too: how to provide real value to their communities in an era of zoom calls and work from home?
Evolution of incubators
Incubators come in different forms and sizes — with the core elements evolving over the years from just physical infrastructure to support services and finally to the model we commonly see today- a mixed bag of infrastructure, entrepreneurial education, mentorship, investment and networks, generally delivered in a cohesive curriculum and culminating with the startup “graduating” and getting opportunities to showcase to investors.
Before the pandemic, a majority of incubators relied on the in-person elements of their programmes- desks, mentor meetings and demo days. The new reality has highlighted the importance of incubators to have in-built flexibility and adaptability to provide a safe, controlled space that insulates the startups from market forces and uncertainties.
1. Virtual transition
As is clear from the current state of affairs, startup programmes going forward are expected to be predominantly or totally virtual.
Doing away with in-person programs makes it easier on the pockets, the environment and speeds up selection and reporting, also enabling the entrepreneurs to continue building their businesses from where they are.
However, it is commonly agreed that one of the biggest values of such programs for startups, is the opportunity to mingle and network with other people. Virtual meet-ups often render the human-to-human interactions relatively bland.
However, where the virtual programs could lack the intimacy of in-person connections, they make up for in the flexibility of meeting people from around the world.
To further substitute for the seemingly lacklustre virtual meetings — Startup programmes may look towards participative video calls through unique software, regular check-ins, and using interest groups to connect founders outside of the program curriculum. A hybrid model of physical and virtual incubation may also be increasingly adopted for regional programmes.
2. “On-demand” access
Consumers around the globe are increasingly favouring one-click solutions to their needs. In the case of founders, this translates to readily accessible knowledge resources and mentorship to boost their startup success.
As a result, incubators are also likely to progress towards online delivery and storage of their entrepreneurship education resources, adopting dashboards and collaboration softwares, keeping track of the teams’ progress, streamlining mentor-mentee matches and curating support all in one place.
Employing a data-driven and software enabled approach would also empower startup programmes to make smarter recruitment decisions, track success metrics and accordingly offer personalised support.
3. Hyper-personalised support
With the advent of knowledge resources and tools being available freely on the web, founders would seek personalised and consistent support from incubation programmes.
Going forward, the one-size-fits all approach may not be equally applicable and useful to founders from all stages and sectors. For example — a hardware company that needs at least a year for R&D is at a drastically different level of development and maturity than a ready to scale sustainable fashion e-commerce brand.
Some key ways to achieve this could be — regular follow-up and review meetings with the founders, personalised introductions — basis the needs and stage of a startup, and tracking progress closely and consistently.
4. Niche positioning
To differentiate their offerings and create more flourishing communities, incubators would be looking towards positioning their programs around niche themes or verticals. This would include branding the programme as a support system for a niche category of startups: stage-wise (early, launch, growth) or sector wise (fintech, MedTech, EdTech etc), with the mentors and resources being from that respective field.
Being in a niche environment enables start-up founders to get the industry specific exposure and support that is needed to scale their venture to the next level.
For instance — a growth stage fintech startup might benefit far more from a “fintech incubation” programme, with mentors and resources to assist in product development, research and regulatory compliance around the domain of financial technology, as opposed to a sector-agnostic incubation program with generic support.
5. Access to a global network
With a leap into virtual operations, one of the key benefits to expect is the blurring of geographical boundaries, and hence, access to a global talent pool.
Accordingly, as incubators make the shift to remote programs, they are likely to expand their horizons to global mentor networks and even, global applications of startups to support, thereby giving one-click access to global consumers and markets to startups from their hometowns.
As the start-up ecosystem is flourishing in India, incubators are, and can be, at the forefront of driving entrepreneurship, innovation and job creation.
Authored by Tanvi Singla, Co-founder, Supreme Incubator.