Today, in the era of accelerating technology development and digital transformation, startups play an increasingly pivotal role in making tech innovations a part of our daily lives. Startups disrupt the old ways of doing business, invent new approaches to ongoing problems and offer consumers previously unseen products and services.
Startups are the drivers of tech innovations, and having a flourishing startup ecosystem is probably the best predictor of business success for any geographical location. Unfortunately, some locations have a much better startup ecosystem than others. As the access to all kinds of support and resources can play an essential role in a startup success, it is quite natural for new company founders to seek it from various groups and organizations.
What makes a good startup hub?
The support for startups can come in different forms, from simply being part of a like-minded community, which allows you to share experiences with other people and get guidance from mentors and high-qualified experts, to receiving actual financial investments.
Naturally, a truly developed and nurturing startup hub is formed by many organizations and business entities, both public and private. For startup founders, first-timers especially, all this diversity forming the startup infrastructure typically is exciting and confusing at the same time. The abundance of platforms and supporting vehicles makes it difficult to tell them apart and decide which one is more suitable for the specific needs of a startup and at what stage of the business it is best to utilise them.
Choosing the right support platform for your startup
And this issue should not be underestimated. In order to maximize the chances of a success, any startup founder has to dedicate maximum of his/her efforts to the core business activities, and wasting time and energy on non-productive and ill-fitted efforts can have very real negative consequences for the company.
A decision to use any of the startup support platforms can be both a step in the right direction and a mistake. For example, early in the startup journey it can be helpful to join an incubator that would provide you with the support of peers and mentors, helping to refine your idea in a friendly environment. On the other hand, an incubator can just as well be a major roadbump for a startup, forcing it to adjust the program structure, timing, and taking the founder’s focus from the core issues. Very often in such cases, a temporary consulting company, working in line with individual goals and timing of each startup client, will be a much more beneficial option compared to an incubator.
Having this problem in mind, we decided to create this directory of various startup-enabling platforms and structures. It should serve as a guide for startup founders, providing them with information that would help their companies to succeed and flourish.
Key startup-enabling platforms
First, let’s list all the main entrepreneur-enabling platforms:and business vehicles that are considered to be a part of the startup ecosystem nowadays.
Now we will review each of these organization types, looking at their business models, distinctive features, advantages and limitations.
1. Incubators are organizations helping early-stage startup founders to develop ideas and proper strategy for long-term growth, providing support, training and office space.
2. Accelerators are programs supporting startups with educational content and funding opportunities to secure quick growth.
3. Innovation centers are creative spaces to share knowledge and nurture ideas in a single location with a cluster-like environment.
4. Soft-Landing Missions are typically short (1 week) and intensive programs designed to help startups to discover new markets and scale-up abroad.
5. Startup Consultancies are specialized companies focused on assisting startups with technology scouting, gathering evidence, building strategic partnerships and other aspects of startup acceleration.
6. Government Agencies are entities formed by the government of any level with a goal to provide private startups with support and assistance.
Сomparative table guide for your startup’s needs
Matching your needs with platforms
Now, let’s take a look at which of these platforms and support channels will be the most appropriate to utilise when facing major challenges in your startup journey.
1. Validation of the idea.
Validation of the idea is the initial stage most startups have to go through in order to gather first feedback and receive proof that the startup’s idea is worth further exploration.
Using an incubator can be beneficial as a way to expose your startup to feedback, be in a focused environment and for peer learning. No need to be there full time, it’s good to spend just as much time in the field, interacting with the market and conducting deep research.
Helps to avoid dead ends and ineffective steps, involve seasoned professionals who have been through the same journey already to guide your effort. Make the mentors your ambassadors as well and work with them on customer discovery by leveraging their contact network (if they are willing to and understand your vision).
Innovation centers are perfect to access technologies and facilities that can help you to prototype and build first evidence for your product.
2. Seeking product/market fit, sales and additional fundraising.
Seeking product/market fit, making first sales and looking to attract additional investments for further development is a crucially important stage for any startup.
Consultancies and advisors.
Good solution when you’re under financial and time pressure and need a comprehensive business plan, as well as the manpower and management bandwidth, to maneuver multiple challenges your startup is facing. A consultant with a matching set of experience, network, flexibility and capacity to accommodate your stage of business can be a game-changer.
Consultants will help you prioritise and execute whatever is required to get your business to the next milestone and grow its value. Make sure you partner with consultants who understand the founder’s challenges, have a track record or even own founder experience and are willing to establish a commercial relationship that harmonizes with your financial shape.
Check out opportunities provided by local, national and regional institutions: connections to investors, grants for market research or IP protection are not uncommon in the EU and many other locations. Is your business in line with nationally prioritized vertical and value chains? Try to connect with contacts in charge of promoting and enabling entrepreneurship and ask them to write you a letter of support or, even better, promote your business to an international audience. Any leverage counts.
Finally, after you established product/market fit and earned first revenue, it’s time to think about a growth strategy. Whether you scale exponentially or incrementally, these are the platforms to consider.
There are countless accelerators around the world but only a few carry measurable impact on startup’s business performance. These compressed intense programs, which frequently also act as investors, provide startups with means to achieve sustainable growth. To determine whether an accelerator is a good fit for your use case, check the alumni and reach out to the leaders prior to applying.
If you’re choosing growth via international expansion but find it difficult to assess the market opportunity remotely, choosing a soft-landing program could provide you all the necessary intelligence without major financial, legal and capacity commitment.
Use the opportunity for customer and partner discovery, understanding the regulatory and IP environment, competition and other local specificities that will allow you to draft a clear business plan.