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Incubators for Small Business Owners

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Incubators for Small Business Owners

By Debbie Gregory.

Business incubators are organizations geared toward speeding up the growth and success of startups and companies in their early stages.

Incubators have been around for quite a while, but the concept really began to gain traction in the 1980s when institutions of higher learning decided to launch school-affiliated business incubators in order to offer students better employment prospects.

Many for-profit or “private” incubation programs were launched in the late 1990s by investors and other for-profit operators seeking to hatch businesses quickly and bring in big payoffs

The vast majority of startups lack the experience and networks that are required for growth, business incubators seek to offer entrepreneurs a range of essential resources and skills development programs. They are often a good way to attract capital from angel investors, state governments, economic-development coalitions and other investors. Other benefits include mentorship, expertise and networking.

Business incubators sometimes have an actual physical space, while others operate on a virtual basis. Both are meant to foster networking among entrepreneurs and their coaches.

Why doesn’t every new business take advantage of an incubator? The answer is that there can be a downside and the very benefits that can make incubators so useful can impact focus during the crucial early stages of your business development.   Additionally, an incubator is a place your company will generally live and grow for years.  If you are looking for quicker results, an incubator might not be the right option for you. For the most part, the benefits far outweigh the downside.

There are some important requisites before you seek out an incubator. To have a successful relationship, you need to be coachable and allow the experts to provide you guidance. You also must be prepared to roll up your sleeves and work and some of it might not be what you think is important.

If you’re considering an incubator for your business, it’s important to find one that is the best fit.   The National Business Incubation Association has a search engine and a directory of state business incubation associations.  Other good sources for finding an incubator include state and local economic development departments, as well as local Small Business Association (SBA) offices.

Veteran and Military Business Owners Association, VAMBOA,




The Value of a Business Mentor

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By Debbie Gregory

Once you launch your own business, there’s no boss to turn to for advice or direction when you need help.  There is not a playbook and having the benefit of someone who has “been there, done that,” otherwise known as a mentor, can be an invaluable resource.

Once you have a clear idea what you want and need from a mentor, it will be easier to find one who is a good fit for you.  

Your mentor will be taking on an incredibly important responsibility, so make sure he or she is up for the task. You want someone who will listen and advise and who is available when you need help and advice. You also want someone who will tell it straight and offer conversations that are constructive, respectful, and specific.

Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are independent organizations that are funded by the Small Business Administration (SBA), state and local governments and resources from the private sector.  SBDC’s provide resources for entrepreneurs. Additionally, SCORE, the nation’s largest network of volunteers and expert business mentors, offers free face-to-face meetings with one of their mentors to discuss your business ideas. There are currently 320 chapters throughout the U.S. with over 11,000 volunteers.

Another option for finding a mentor involves participating in social events. By attending conferences, speaking events and networking events, you will learn more about your industry and meet the people who are already established in it.   These people make excellent mentors.

Startup incubators thrive on brainstorming and locating these incubators and asking if you can drop in may be a win-win for you and your business.

The reason LinkedIn was launched was to broaden business networks between prospects, customers, suppliers, distributors, consultants, funding sources and analysts, so don’t overlook those in your network and their contacts.   Linked In is a wonderful way to network and expand your connections in many areas.

People who run companies within your industry who target a different segment or location of the market may also be willing to help you.

Successful business owners know what they don’t know. Mentors can help you overcome those obstacles. Once you have your business running smoothly, you may be able to pay it forward, and you can volunteer to become a mentor yourself.

Veteran and Military Business Owners Association, VAMBOA,



Tech stars

Since 2007, Techstars has helped fledgling entrepreneurs in the tech industry find startup capital, as well as making networking and mentoring contacts that have catapulted these companies to success. Now, through a program called Patriot Boot Camp, Techstars is helping Veteran entrepreneurs realize their dreams of creating their own successful tech companies.

Patriot Boot Camp is a three day program that offers educational information and the ability to make invaluable business mentors and networking contacts to 50-75 Veteran entrepreneurs and military spouses each session. Leaders of Patriot Boot Camp like to think of the program as a bridge that allows access for Veterans to enter the tech entrepreneur community.

The stated mission of Techstar’s Patriot Boot Camp is to give Veteran entrepreneurs and their spouses the tools and resources they need to be successful entrepreneurs, and help them build companies of scale and impact. Their mission is based on four fundamental beliefs:

  • Veterans possess skills and experience that make them successful entrepreneurs
  • Empowering Veterans and military spouses to start their own companies will help them become the commanders of their own financial security
  • Providing opportunities for Veteran entrepreneurs will help solve Veteran unemployment, because they typically hire other Veterans
  • Veteran owned businesses will be at the vanguard of economic growth in the United States

This year’s Patriot Boot Camp will be held May 16-18, 2014, at the Goldman Sachs building in New York City. The tentative schedule of events for the program is as follows:

Day 1: Basic entrepreneurial education on conceptualizing, creating and building upon your own successful tech business.

Day 2: Patriot Boot Camp provides its participants with more than 50 well-established mentors who offer one-on-one mentoring sessions. These sessions are invaluable to Veteran entrepreneurs who are new to the tech industry. At past boot camps, these mentors have included such high profile industry players as Union Square Ventures co-founder Fred Wilson; former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Gen. George Casey Jr.; Founder and CEO of Buzzcar Robin Chase; and Techstars co-founder David Brown.

Day 3: Special Pitch Competition that pits idea-stage entrepreneurs against owners of established companies in a friendly competition that teaches participants the benefits of creating an effective pitch.

The program is always free to Veterans, active duty military and military spouses, and includes a continental breakfast and lunch for each day. Techstars provides the program as a thank you to Veterans for their service and as a means of recognizing their value and potential as entrepreneurs. However, dinner meals, travel arrangements and hotel accommodations are covered by the participants at their own expense.

Some of the previous participants have gone on to create and expand such companies as Uvize, Wedding Worthy, Hyprloco and the Travelst.

But one of the best things about the program is that Veteran entrepreneurs aren’t required to own a business in order to participate in Patriot Boot Camp; companies can still be in the conceptual stage.

VAMBOA sees the Patriot Boot Camp as a great opportunity for Veterans who have just recently started or are looking to start their own tech company. The resources, including information, access to mentors and networking contacts can help boost and benefit any young company.

Participants in Patriot Boot Camp are not automatically eligible for other Techstars programs. For more information about Techstars, visit their site at

For more information about Patriot Boot Camp, visit