What the critics and supporters of any accelerator or incubator program often discuss are activities backed by some calculation of ‘results.’ It makes it difficult to talk about the good things (and the bad things that are actually bad) because often the activity is seen as the result to some people and to others it’s not.
To complicate this some more the public funding often asked for metrics that are tied to activities and celebrates them (e.g., funding events, number of people attending an event). This isn’t just in the accelubation space, pretty much all government funding for any agency or service wants to see numbers that are tied to activities that reach the highest number of people over a few people that do very well. The public likes those numbers and can understand those numbers.
Think about health care. The media constantly points towards ‘wait times’ in the ER and number of beds in hospitals. The real results we would like to see would be something like the percentage of successful diagnoses, treatment success, and some number on the quality of life after treatment.
If wait times in ER are down to 5 min by giving everyone a placebo would that be better? Maybe? But a lot of people would probably be a lot worse off. Thankfully doctors and nurses take the time to provide proper care to everyone. They look for efficiencies while working inside regulations and maintaining (and improving) the overall quality of care. The numbers that speak to the meaningful results are hard for the public to consume as they all require a deep dive to fully understand them.
With accelerators and incubators there is a similar difference between what the public can consume and the numbers that point towards growing more successful companies. There is an expectation to report on the number of companies, demos, number of jobs, and the number of people expressing interest in ‘tech’ by attending events.
To drive those numbers you can just run a big events company that pack event spaces and generate media attention. That might help produce energy but it also creates noise and consumes people’s time. The numbers that would be more interesting are company growth numbers, the time it takes to grow, can these companies find the right people (how long are jobs posted before they are filled and do they stay filled), are local investors investing, etc. The interesting metrics are a long list but it takes a deep dive to fully understand, evaluate, and act on them.
Metrics are just numbers. They require context.
Success looks different for each community. What is a result and what is an activity depends on what you are trying to achieve. If the success is simply getting 50 people in a room to talk about startups, then that is what it is. There is underlying expectation that events lead to a connection that leads to a company that has 20 employees.
The trick (or the art) is to focus on achieving the metrics your stakeholders care about (number of people for example) and the important result that will help you make a difference (company meets key funder at a small event).
The events and the energy is important but what will add the most value to improve quality is something else. That something else boils down to something simple but there is a distillation process (activity) that is necessary in order to get there…
Connecting the right people at the right time.
My favourite example of this is my own experience with Communitech. There were two key ‘moments’ that gave my company a chance it would not have had otherwise.
- The first moment – an EIR hosting a brainstorming event that allowed my cofounder and I to meet at the right time in the right context. This happened in January 2009.
- The second moment – An EIR that just started pulled up our company profile and sat down with the founding team. We were trying to figure out if we had something real. From that inspirational conversation he became an invaluable advisor/investor and board member right until the exit. This happened over the period of January 2011-November 2013.
There were lots of other things – events, services, etc – that support meeting the right people at the right time. I don’t feel like those two key moments were ‘chance’ collisions. They were indirectly designed.
Connections like that aren’t random enough in the wider business community outside of places like the Valley (although even there you kiss a lot of frogs). There still lacks the concentration and that is where accelerators, incubators, and the larger organizations become essential community ‘distilleries.’
Over the last 10 years I have seen key ‘moments’ or a series of those moments for many founders. Sometimes the timing is off or the personalities don’t match. You just keep trying as things find a way to work themselves out.
You can’t just expect to have events and have those chance connections happen and turn into something valuable. The event is the activity, the result is relationships that are forged and what happens next. The activity can be measured on the short term but the results are measured over a much longer term. The big results take time!
Activities and their metrics are the health check but everyone needs to keep focused on the results they want to achieve. We spend a lot of time discussing how we are pushing the car out of the snowbank. The important thing is the car gets out of the snowbank.