My earliest memory of an incubator is from the first time I met my youngest sister. A twin, she had taken second place to her twin brother in the womb and so on the day she was born I was only able to gape at her through plastic casing. Some days later she was stronger and I was able to interact with her: one sister, with another.
I’m now a little older and have become familiar with a similar but altogether different sort of incubator – a business incubator. This is sometimes a ‘casing’ physical building or a distributed state of being, intended to nourish and nurture nascent startups & businesses and prepare them to be strong enough – financially & in many other ways – to face the real world. They are intensive support programmes where mentoring is given, greatly needed expertise is passed on and where incubatees form a community with others like them.
There are incubators everywhere, for nearly everything
Examples of incubators abound, as do incubator alumni. YCombinator (a tech incubator/accelerator programme in the US) boasts Dropbox, Airbnb and Reddit as alumni – ever heard of those companies? These days, it’s almost always a rite of passage for new ‘startup’ companies wishing to go the next level, attract funding or raise their profile.
On my travels I’ve seen incubators and incubator-like programmes. Like CreativeBox in Morocco Google supported Ideia Lab in Mozambique which provides a space for women to work. I remember being impressed by the NewMe accelerator programme which was featured on CNN some years ago.
Here in London and across the UK we have a growing number of diverse incubators. Universities like UCL & Imperial pride themselves on their IDEALondon and Imperial Innovations programmes respectively. I’m a fan of food-startup hub Kitchenette and given our connections to Telefonica I’ve spent my fair share of time at Wayra London and it’s new Wayra UnLtd programme. In February, I attended the launch of the penultimate Cognicity and I’ve also heard a lot about Bethnal Green Ventures which runs a 3 month programme, slightly shorter than the others.
Each incubator has a specialism and/or a focus. Social enterprise & Social Good (Wayra UnLtd & Bethnal Green Ventures), Black & Minority Ethnic background (NewMe), Buildings & Home (Cognicity), Food (Kitchenette), Technology platform (the rest).
Each has a space, pool of mentors, fixed period, demo/pitching day and support (read, funding) for the startups it accepts. About a year ago, I sat with the Stemettes team & Advisors and we talked about what a Stemettes Incubator could work for a slightly different audience from the norm. We talked about what a programme might look like and also what might be feasible given the inbuilt duty of care to our girls.
And so Outbox Incubator has been born. As we’ve continued our ‘business as usual’ around the country we’ve seen more and more candidates for the incubator. The need is there and we’re gearing up to meet demand.
To some I’ve described this as a cross between the Apprentice, Big Brother and X-factor, but without being televised.
We’re now on the lookout for some of those ingredients to realise this dream. Top of our list was a house big enough to sleep 15 girls and host 45 girls in incubator sessions but central enough for mentors to come and visit (we’ve just paid the deposit on this!); a food partner to feed everyone coming and going; session mentors who have been there, done it and got the t-shirt; longer term mentors who will provide advice after the programme; and ‘angels’ who will be able to put their money where their mouth is for these entrepreneurs on our 15th August Demo day.
In addition to being more ready to launch or seek investment, we’re hoping to give our girls extra confidence to see themselves as Stemette role models, but also the skills and wisdom to be able to deal with all the trappings of being an entrepreneur: dealing with failure, being strategic and growing the right team. And of course, in true Stemette style the 6 weeks will feature a lot of fun, food and free stuff…
Girls have until 28 May to apply (or be nominated) at outboxincubator.com/apply. Companies and interested parties have until 28 May to pledge sessions, swag, funding or mentoring at outboxincubator.com/pledge. To learn more about the programme itself, checkout out outboxincubator.com and follow @outboxincubator for updates. If you want to get involved, do!
Photos of HRH The Princess Royal meeting young female STEM entrepreneurs at the Outbox Incubator launch on 28th April