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Sunday, 18. August 2019  

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Incubation 2.0

NESTA are looking for people involved in the business incubation sector to contribute their thoughts on what it takes nowadays to incubate a growing innovative business.

How has the process of growing innovative new businesses changed in the decade since the dot com boom? Has public policy kept pace with the changes underway? Are we capitalising on new opportunities and culling dysfunctional practices? What activities should public sector and private sector actors prioritise in order to support more innovative, high growth companies? What is incubation 2.0?

These are the kind of questions we're looking to find the answer to in order to compile a series of provocations and search for relevant case studies.

The collection will gather new insights into the latest global trends in business incubation and acceleration and seek radical challenges to both government policy and business practices to increase the effectiveness of future efforts.

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For two decades, business incubators have been an important part of the UK innovation system. They have proliferated in recent years with over 300 active business incubators in the UK alone, the majority being not-for-profit and public sector-led, frequently linked with universities.

Originally used by policymakers as a social and economic regeneration tool in response to industrial decline, incubators are increasingly viewed as a lever for economic growth. Despite examples of excellence, according to some, the ‘incubator’ brand has been damaged by some poor quality, low-impact services and little evidence of which factors and models have the greatest influence on the growth of innovative businesses.

Focused on improving public sector models of incubation and acceleration, policymakers may have overlooked radical changes underway in the private sector.

In addition to a long history of corporate entrepreneurship, a decade or so ago entrepreneurs began developing their own incubators as for-profit ventures, often described as ‘business accelerators’ to set them apart from public sector initiatives. While these flourished, (and often withered) in the in the dot-com era, today several influential new models of private sector business incubation are emerging. From proliferating seed accelerators, where entrepreneur syndicates grow new start up cohorts, to crowd-sourced investment funds enabled by social media and a new generation of corporate entrepreneurs.

A new incubation tool kit is emerging.

Our approach

We will commission a number of provocations and case studies to address a range of core questions. For example:

  • How has the process of growing innovative businesses changed in the decade since the dot com boom?
  • Can incubation ever be harmful?
  • What new funding opportunities are shaking up the system?
  • Is an MBA still worth the price tag? What’s the best preparation for entrepreneurship? 
  • Are these new trends relevant outside digital media and internet businesses? How fast are things changing in other sectors?

This work would be edited together and complemented by a separate piece of research analysing academic and business literature and assembling evidence of the impact of incubation and acceleration on the growth of innovative businesses.







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