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From spare bedroom to boardroom: getting the most from an incubator

Nick Churchouse, head of customer engagement at Wellington business incubator Creative HQ, shares his tips for getting the most from an early-stage business programme.

Is running a startup what you really want to do?

You may be passionate about your idea or product, but when you decide to build a business around it, sooner or later you’ll have to move into the role of running the company. Make sure it’s a step you want to take. For smart founders who need help understanding how to build a business, an incubation programme can add enormous value with the advice, mentors, and structured expertise it brings in.

Find a team of people who are invested in your company

To make a good go of it, your business needs three hats: a) domain expertise – someone who understands your market and its key players, and the psychology of your customers; b) technical expertise – someone who knows how to get your product to the point where it can be manufactured or licensed; c) business expertise – someone who can build a sustainable, repeatable business model and the pathway to becoming a growth company.

Listen to advice (even if it’s not what you want to hear)

Go into an incubation/acceleration programme with an open mind and an intellectual honesty about taking on feedback. Communication is essential. You’ll need to give regular and robust feedback about the state of your business, as well as receiving it. This may involve reining in your ego and listening to what people are telling you so you can make the most of the advice you’re getting.

Know your value proposition – why does your company matter?

Bring a clear strategic vision from the outset. You need to have a core understanding of your value proposition and to have tested it in the market. We encourage people to validate their ideas up front, so they can develop their product or service based on the learnings. It’s the best way to counter the naysayers.

Build yourself a cash runway

Have six to 12 months’ worth of cash to burn on business and living expenses while you focus more or less full time on your start-up venture. Joining the right support network, like an incubator, will help make the most of the capital you have at your disposal. But having to earn money to pay your mortgage, school fees, and other household bills, will divert your time and focus from your startup project. 

Dos and don’ts

• Do commit as much time as you have spare to your business.
• Do engage in the community of entrepreneurs you become part of.
• Don’t expect to have people running around after you.
• Don’t spend your money on a flash office.
?• Don’t expect hired guns to be as committed as you are.

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