Business incubators are booming. There are thousands of them all across the country that can help entrepreneurs of all kinds. The government of Canada has actually announced grants for these organizations in order to power innovation and entrepreneurship.
Why is it important to join an incubator, and how do you pick the right one? Our expert shares his professional advice on the matter.
A business incubator is an organization that helps entrepreneurs who are trying to start a business. Incubators guide the participant and offer mentorship, training and tools that will allow them to structure their idea and bring it to life. “Any entrepreneur can join an incubator; they will offer them services specific to their field, type of start-up, and the kind of idea they’re trying to realize,” explains Éric Labelle, Director, Startups, Technology and Innovation Banking at National Bank.
Joining an incubator can also make an entrepreneur more trustworthy in the eyes of investors and banks, which would allow them to get financing more easily or access credit facilities to achieve their goal.
The concepts of business incubators and accelerators can be confusing, especially since some play both roles. Put simply, the incubator helps entrepreneurs launch their business, whereas the accelerator allows the entrepreneur to create their idea and bring it to life in the incubation phase.
An accelerator is an organization that offers a program that usually lasts four to twelve weeks, during which the entrepreneur has access to highly influential players in the industry who will help them connect with the right people in order to take their project further.
Incubator and accelerator programs offer many high-end resources and materials to their participants, such as test labs, 3D printers and specialized software. They also benefit from shared workspaces and brainstorming sessions. The synergy created between participants is often what helps entrepreneurs take their ideas to the next level.
When an entrepreneur joins an incubator, they gain access to lots of training opportunities on entrepreneurship, financial planning and market entry. They will also be introduced to other entrepreneurs who can share their experiences and give them advice on the business they’re trying to start. “In an incubator, the entrepreneur will be challenged to rethink their idea with the right guidance so they know exactly what they should do and how to strategize,” the expert continues.
To choose the right incubator, ask yourself these questions to ensure it meets your needs:
Labelle points out that each incubator has skills and a niche that’s specific to one area. “For example, an innovation or healthcare business wouldn’t join an incubator that specializes in culture; there would be no benefit.” That’s why it’s always important to pick an incubator after evaluating their offering, their expertise, their support network, and most of all, your own needs and goals. Each incubator has partners that enhance their offering.
When you’ve pinpointed the incubator that best matches your start-up, find all the relevant information you need. Are they open to anyone or do you have to go through a selection panel? Can you access it at any time or only during specific periods?
“There are so many! Any company that enters an incubator will not come out the same.” In Labelle’s experience, many entrepreneurs end up starting a business that’s different from what they envisioned before they joined an incubator. On top of the investment and financial aspects, businesses will benefit from being able to set up, perfect and validate their strategy in terms of commercialization, development and conceptualization. They will also have access to a wide network of contacts, partners, and sometimes even lawyers. “Entrepreneurs can meet people they never would have had a chance to meet; they can work on their strategy with them, and find partners for market entry and advertising,” he adds.
The exceptional circumstances of 2020 have forced many companies to reinvent themselves, and incubators are no exception. “It was complex for incubators, as their strength lies in face-to-face meetings with people who can provide mentorship and coaching; they quickly had to pivot to virtual meetings,” the expert explains. The positive aspect of this transition is that they were able to expand the pool of businesses that could participate in their programs beyond their geographical area. Thus, businesses and start-ups in Europe or the United States were able to join incubators that are usually hyperlocal, and Quebec businesses were also able to join European incubators.
Incubators in Montreal
Incubators elsewhere in Quebec and Canada
National Bank can help you start your business. We partner with many incubators and have set up financial aid programs for entrepreneurs who set themselves apart. We also have financial solutions for participants of certain programs to allow them to focus on their business project.
Read our guide as you start your business to get support at every step.
* The incubators on this list are endorsed by or have a partnership with National Bank.
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