Which are the most successful university-associated incubators?


I've been asked by a [very excellent] university to help them start an incubator that will work with faculty & students to build in-lab technologies into fundable start-ups.

[Most everything will be seed/concept stage nearly always with a technology component, largely in biotech, chemicals, materials, life sciences -- not so much electronics or web. The area lacks a large investment or start-up community.]

I'd like to know --- which are the most successful university-associated incubators? Any entrepreneurs here that had positive experiences with an incubator? (I did in first start-up, but not with a university-affiliate incubator.)

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asked Oct 24 '09 at 08:50
Kyle Jensen
136 points
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10 Answers


It's worth checking out what is going on at UMass Boston's Venture Development Center (VDC). They may be more outward facing than what you have in mind, but worth a look. www.umb.edu/vdc

Northeastern University just launched a program as well, called IDEA, which is trying to catalyze innovation and company formation at their school. When they developed the program over the last year, they similarly looked at a number of different existing programs including Babson, MIT, etc. http://northeastern.edu/idea/beta/ There's also the Target Technology Incubator that is part of the University of Maine, that you may want to investigate. www.target.maine.edu/index.php/incubator

answered Dec 1 '09 at 06:13
Jason Evanish
83 points


Michigan State University (MSU) has had a couple incubators that I'm familiar with. Their concentration has been in biotech, appropriately for a school strong in agriculture.

Their original incubator was Michigan Biotechnology Institute, now called MBI International, at http://www.mbi.org/. They have a new bio-focused incubator project as well, the MSU Bioeconomy Institute, at http://bioeconinst.msu.edu.

If you're looking for biotech incubation practices to pattern after, you may want to give them a look.

answered Oct 25 '09 at 01:12
Mark Beadles
502 points


Another one to consider is the University of Waterloo's "Dormcubator" - Velocity: http://velocity.uwaterloo.ca - they're very new and have done an incredible job of attracting investment, spinning off companies, generating huge PR, and getting entrepreneurs and VC's involved.

The associate director there is Jesse Rodgers (@jrodgers and www.whoyoucallingajesse.com)

Here are some of the startups that have come out of it: http://velocity.uwaterloo.ca/projects Something to keep inmind - this is an incubator targetting undergrad entrepreneurs, so may or may not be a good fit for what you're looking. If you're looking for more personal feedback, I recommend reaching out to Jesse through Twitter or his blog.

answered Dec 7 '09 at 13:55
Joseph Fung
1,542 points


I've observed and been impressed with The Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The center is affiliated with Fresno State (my alma mater) and having a pretty significant impact here is Central California.

answered Dec 8 '09 at 05:25
Keith De Long
5,091 points


Check out Drexel University's LeBow College of Business - Lawrence A. Baiada School of Entrepreneurship which bridges education and entrepreneurship by linking research, coursework, experiential learning, and entrepreneurial thinking with practical guidance for budding entrepreneurs. The school has operated a business incubator since March 2001 and has one of best-planned, best-managed programs in the country.

More information at http://www.lebow.drexel.edu/Centers/Baiada/Entrepreneur/Incubation.php.

answered Nov 29 '09 at 01:03
Lonnie Sciambi
369 points


I know Babson College (Wellesley, MA) has a great incubator program. Babson's Blank center does a lot of great work with the entrepreneurs. At some point Dean Mark Rice of Babson was involved with the National Business incubation assoc and their website (nbia.org) should have more information.

answered Nov 30 '09 at 00:59
Aka Ak
165 points


Austin Technology Incubator, affiliated to University of Texas is a great one. They are very well plugged into the Austin/DFW/Houston startup community. I have taken part in ATI supported events such as 3daystartup. I have also worked with entrepreneurs who have launched ATI sponsored starups. ATI also works on technology commercialization and hosts the IC2 institute..

A very supportive / successful organization overall.

answered Dec 19 '09 at 09:48


Take care that the university is not seeking patents to get more funding ..and go for it!

answered Nov 8 '09 at 06:05
Tim Post
633 points


You don't specify how you define "successful". To me that could mean any one of the following:

  • Largest valuations in exits (sales of companies or IPOs)
  • Highest success rate for small businesses staying in business after X number of years
  • Most number of people or organizations given space/funding/etc
  • Easiest access for faculty and students and local entrepeneurs to the facility and other resources
  • Biggest names of successful ventures/most widely recognized
  • most number of new jobs created
  • Best PR/visibility for university
  • etc...

But even with an agreed-upon definition I don't think it is possible.

What you really should be focusing on is what are the goals that you are trying to meet?
- Promote a certain sector
- create jobs
- create low-cost environment for entrepreneurs
- encourage entrepreneurism in students and alums

There are many - I would just pick some to talk to or talk to local entrepreneurs and the students to see what they need/want.

I think you also need to define some basics first - what are the patent and ownership/royalties policies with work developed at/by university staff.

Let us know how it goes.

Why not start a pilot program right away - have a pitch contest and choose one or two and see how it goes - get feedback and try to apply it and keep track of all the problems and issues.

Go interview any incubator participants you can find. See where the problems are and what they think would make a better environment.

Stanford seems to have an active community - with students, professors and lovcal investors all participating in functions together. Look for the entrepreneur podcast from there and try to get in touch with those folks. I don't think I would classify it as an incubator, but the community is there.

I looked into an incubator at a local college here on Long Island. The benefits were not that great (not much discount on rent, and I think they valued the "Access to academic staff" far too much.) There was a long waiting list and the organization was extremely unresponsive to questions and requests for information. It was a real turn off.

answered Nov 8 '09 at 17:39
Tim J
8,346 points


I think the best known one is the MIT Media Lab, as they have so much going to commercial use that they seem to be almost an incubator.

In my experience at University of South Florida, the culture seems to be important, and their incubator was focused toward helping faculty get commercial mileage out of their ideas, but grad students could be employed there after they graduated, as they had the training that was needed by the startup.

Some universities seem to have a better culture for people to think about ideas, so in areas such as Seattle, Boston, San Francisco you will find more interest, and I expect that it is due to faculty sharing thoughts and experiences with students, which fires up their imaginations more.

answered Oct 24 '09 at 09:32
James Black
2,642 points

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