Tom O’Neil, Associate Vice President of Research and Commercialization at the University of Central Florida has contributed a passionate article to Forbes supporting business incubators. With the Florida Innovation Hub at UF and Santa Fe’s Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center (GTEC), business incubators are a big deal in Gainesville. There are many proponents of the concept, but also many critics.
Critics often complain that incubators serve as pressure free environments for under-performing startups to merely exist in, without focusing on growth. Mr. O’Neil has some words for these critics. One issue Mr. O’Neil points out is the over use of the term “incubator.” Recently, the term has been thrown around to describe real estate deals where startups are given a break on rent. Real incubation, as Mr. O’Neil argues, is much more than just a location. It’s a university supported program with a rigorous set of objectives, and a community of supporters available for advice and counseling. Real incubators are eager to bid their startups farewell, and hold the companies accountable for their growth goals. Mr. O’Neil also points to hard data as evidence of success. In a study of 448 startups, half in university supported incubation programs and half not, the incubation companies had an average of approximately six more employees than their non-incubator rivals. While this may not seem significant, the difference of six employees is huge in the startup world. Thus, Mr. O’Neil would advocate the continued support of projects such as the Florida Innovation Hub and the GTEC, and he makes a very compelling case.