This semester I am working on an independent study to research university-based venture incubators. I became interested in this topic from my own experience in applying design methodologies and tools to help entrepreneurs build their businesses–mainly with social enterprises in the spaces of education and green technology. I spent my summer interning with Good Company Group's social-enterprise incubator, a 10-week program; working with a group in the Urban Apps & Maps Studios incubator at Temple University; and being in close proximity to our universities' Corzo Center for the Creative Economy, which has an arts-focused incubator component. What I have found to be particularly interesting is the shift that is occurring amongst small business incubators. They no longer only provide physical facilities and administrative services, but have transitioned to more of a service-based model that offers several business support services (with few yet to offer design as one of them).
The definition of an incubator that I found to resonate most with my experience is:
"An enterprise that facilitates the early-stage development of firms by providing office space, shared services and business assistance." (Hackett and Dilts, 2004, p.55)
To further understand this shift, and the relation of these incubators to Universities, I will be conducting research in the form of interviews and secondary literature research. My goal is to identify and make comparisons between the various models being used, as well as understand the role that design does/or could play amongst the other services offered. I am very excited about this study because it is building a foundation for a potential application of my design skills in my life after school.
To give you a little context: my husband, Taylor, comes from a small town in Southeastern Ohio called Portsmouth. His family has lived in Portsmouth since the early 1900's, and Taylor will be joining the family Optometry business as the fourth generation Optometrist (I am so proud and happy for him!). At first, it was hard to think of where my design skills would "fit" in a small town–especially one whose economy has shifted to be more service-based than one of industrial production. However, with the experience I have gained through graduate school, I have come to realize that there are many opportunities to create positive social and economic impact through design, within even the smallest communities.
In Portsmouth, I can see meaningful partnerships with the growing Shawnee State University, the established Southern Ohio Medical Center, as well as many other institutions eager to support entrepreneurs, and the growth of the Portsmouth economy. So, by doing this research into university-based venture incubators, I hope to gain a better understanding of how they are operated, how they measure their impact within the community, and where design could fit in this space.
This basis will help to inform my decisions about possibly starting my own university-based incubator, joining one that currently exists, or beginning something completely new–I am excited for all the possibilities!
Thanks for reading, and more to come as I continue my research.