Thursday, 13 March 2014

What to look out for before applying to join an Incubator in Kenya.

Hubs, Open spaces, Incubators and accelerators are now a common thing in Kenya. More are sprouting up in universities and a few more from India will set up base locally by end of 2014.They have a role to play in nurturing early stage and accelerating growth for startups which is a good thing for innovation.
Entrepreneurs at Growth Hub
Entrepreneurs at Growth Hub
Hubs, Open spaces, Incubators and accelerators are now a common thing in Kenya. More are sprouting up in universities and a few more from India will set up base locally by end of 2014. They have a role to play in nurturing early stage and accelerating growth for startups which is a good thing for innovation.
With all the options around, every so often you’ll see a ‘call for applications’ inviting entrepreneurs with innovative and startups to join. Just because there’s free space, shared resources, the bonding, sharing expertise doesn’t make you successful. The ping pong table, free internet, comfy seats and all the amazing people that pass by are all good things. Look out for opportunities that advance your prototype. There are certain places where the blind lead the dumb so hanging out there for years doesn’t get you anywhere.
Well I’d like to share a few points to help those starting out on what to look out for while choosing which one to apply to. These are solely my opinions and you should absolutely make that decision on where to apply and go hang out.
1.        Their Target:
In a call for applications the hub or institution defines the program, criteria of selection and eligibility. If you’re an early stage startup applying to join an incubator look out for their key focus     If they have one. Do they need agribusiness ideas, edtech, renewable energy, Consumer mobile & ICT or just anything idea that sounds innovative and cool. I’d recommend you to apply to those focused on a particular sector around what you’re doing. In a cohort of 12 to 18 companies in different sectors you’ll probably not gain much from the program if you’re all mixed up. The facilitators may not have expertise in all these sectors, the hub may not attract enough mentors with great sector experience for all these startups. However the reason most hubs prefer a mixed cohort is the difficulty of getting 14 or more fresh startups with good ideas in one industry to join a class. Another thing is some of them will tend to be working on almost similar stuff so you don’t need to be in the same environment learning with your competitor.
2.      Look out for the Facilitator bios:
The facilitators are the people who will take you through the program, the sessions and workshops. Look out for their bios, dig them up on LinkedIn to see what they’ve done and accomplished. Also look out for their experience around the industry you’re start up is in. This will help you decide whether you need to commit the next 14 weeks into a program.
3.      Core Strengths| Focus
Are you building a consumer mobile application? Are you into renewable energy? Health? Agribusiness?
Whatever it is you are working on look out for an hub that sort of focuses on that or has a good history and some success in that field. Go into the About us section of their website, ask around what they are really good at and use that to decide if they’re a good fit for your startup or idea.
4.      Their Connections| History| Network
Some of the local hubs locally are run by foreigners or guys with strong connections to some regions, countries or industries. These connections and history will tell you the kind of mentors they attract, investors who check out their graduates and more important their ability to introduce you to these people and partners. Check out their past programs, see the Impact Fund or development partners who have supported them. That will give you a better understanding of who they are well connected to and where.
5.      Look out for their successes:
Go to their portfolio, check out the logos there. Go to their blog and see the companies they’ve written about. Check other blogs and Google those companies and see if they acknowledge or mention that particular hub/program for their success. Ask around for the successes, and companies they’ve incubated or accelerated in the past and where they are now. That should tell you about the value of their programs. Certain startups will get incubation in one  hub, acceleration in another, get some funding from another contest or on completion of another program elsewhere so all these institutions will overlap somewhere on the big successes. However look out for consistency.
6.      Talk to the Graduates:
Google the startups in their past program/s, talk to the graduates about their experience in the program, the value and gains realized. Talk to both investees [companies that received some funding after graduation] and those that didn’t. This should tell you something about what they look for and the kind of training and mentorship received.
7.       The Mentors| Speakers and Investors:
Say your application was successful and you’ve been invited for an interview. After that session be free to ask them of who the mentors in the program will be. Or some of the guys who have mentored startups in past programs. That done, you may ask for angels who have attended their demo days in the past. This is important information, because I have heard of stories of people being mentored by competitors and pitched to entrepreneurs masquerading as investors. Just ask. Most of these places promise access to mentors but really do not deliver that, or manage a few to be shared among the whole cohort.
8.      The Source of Funding:
These programs are all funded by institutions or backed somehow by private companies. Look out for these partners and understand their history, what they do and the bottom line. Why did they support this particular program? Are they an impact fund? Are they a consumer electronics company? A mobile operator? Who are they and what do you think their expectations are from the program. Why is this information important? At the end of the day the hub has certain deliverables and promises to meet for the sponsor of the program. In certain cases, the people with the money dictate what their money should do or be put in. So just ensure your startup is helping the sponsor or partner deliver more value to their customers, raise more funding from your success or earn bragging rights. There’s nothing like FREE, understanding WHAT’S IN IT FOR THEM will help you pitch, and position your company for funding or more support.
9.      The Extra Benefits:
Are they giving you free space during and after the incubation for your team of 3? Is there some money for top 5 startups to develop a better prototype or carry out a pilot? Access to meeting rooms? Eeer refreshments and snacks? And anything else they’re offering on top of the workshops.
10.   The Cohort
Assuming you’ve been accepted into a program. Before signing that offer letter ask for other companies selected and what they are doing. Or better still attend the first session and find out. Entrepreneurs really help each other out and fix issues . It’s also a good place to network and make some new friends, partner with or even date L
Just ensure you’re in the right company. It’s really nothing much, but if you’re committing 14 weeks into something at least be around people who challenge you, are smarter and interesting too. Look out for problems they’re fixing, the products they are building, who they are, what they’ve done in the past and studied. This really helps you identify who to talk to during the snack breaks and seek help from.

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