But before I dig in, a little background is in order – there was an excellent series of posts written over at the Early Stage Investment Blog on this topic. The en vogue name for these entities is now “business accelerators”, not incubators. The idea behind them is to give entrepreneurs a little bit of money, space and utilities, and exposure to a wide range of professionals as mentors to help them grow their ideas and their startups.
I sit on the advisory board of one of this new crop of accelerators, AlphaLab in Pittsburgh. I have seen it develop over the course of the last two years – the quantity, and more importantly ,the quality of the applications we are seeing every six months is on the rise, and I do think AlphaLab is doing an important job of fostering startup creation, and perhaps more so the overall mindset in Pittsburgh that we can be a town where new ideas and new businesses grow.
We have a debate going in our firm as to whether or not accelerators are a necessary or even a good thing – some of our partners live by the motto that, “Great entrepreneurs find a way to get it done,” and their reflex is to dismiss the need for such “startup daycare”. I subscribe to the notion that these accelerators are an important part of the overall entrepreneurial ecosystem. Certainly not every startup needs the support and infrastructure that these organizations provide, but there seem to be a number that do benefit from these services. Digging back into my bag of physics analogies, I think of the role that temperature and pressure play in coaxing two hydrogen nuclei to fuse and give off a burst of energy – and I think accelerators offer a little temperature and pressure to the situation. But everything like this is by degrees, so I am sure there is a spectrum of right and wrong along this debate.
If you have a point of view, I would love to hear it. It takes a long time to see the fruits of these labors inside the accelerators, so it will be a long time before we see whether data and facts back up the perceived benefits that I see.
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