Business incubators are often on the radars of new businesses with no prior or current affiliation with any other business ventures. But despite its potential for broader applications, the incubator concept is often overlooked by fledgling subsidiaries or associated businesses of well-established entities. It may well be worth it for both types of new businesses to take a look at one of the many incubators in Canada. Canadian incubators span many geographic regions and cater to various types of businesses.
A business incubator is an entity that provides business support in the form of shared space and management or other support services designed to help new and start-up entities develop quickly. A key feature of incubators is that they provide multi-tenant buildings to house the businesses they assist. Additionally, the length of time that businesses may gestate in the incubator is much longer than is the case with other models, like accelerators, for example.
The services offered by incubators are usually more affordable for participants than they would otherwise be, for a number of reasons. The costs may be subsidized by governments or other quasi-public institutions; the incubator may experience economies of scale from spreading costs across several participants or may be able to negotiate bulk discounts that individual participants would not be able to access; and participants can often access services on a pay-as-you-go basis, thereby avoiding fixed or long-term cost commitments.
An incubator may provide some or all of the following services or features:
- Collegiality. Because incubators house several businesses at similar stages of growth, which are all likely to be facing similar challenges, there are colleagues available to brainstorm, share ideas and create a sense of community.
- Access to funding – by facilitating access to capital, though not necessarily providing funding
- Management advice or consulting services, including business plan preparation, for example
- Facility rentals, for research, office space or other purposes. Space may be offered with varying levels of flexibility, including month-to-month, short-term or pay-as-you-go.
- Shared services, like front-desk or accounting services
- Technical support, for example research assistance
- Affordable labour, for example where incubators are in a college-town or affiliated with a school or university. This may provide easy access to inexpensive and flexible student labour, which may be relatively skilled as students may be pursuing doctorates or other advanced or specialised degrees.
Additional resources and a few examples of incubators in Canada include:
- The Canadian Acceleration and Business Incubation Association (CABI) is a vehicle for innovation through business incubation and acceleration. The organization fosters collaboration between universities, governments and accelerators and incubators in both public and private sectors. CABI promotes the incubator model in various ways including: (i) advancing best practices across Canada and establishing industry-led accreditation programs for incubators and accelerators; (ii) partnering with government bodies like the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration to run the Start-up Visa Program (SUV). Entrepreneurs from around the world can apply to SUV streams, and if accepted, may be able to move to Canada and grow their businesses; (iii) establishing the Food Business Incubators International (FBII), a membership association for professionals in the business of incubating new food processing operations. The FBII website (which has not yet launched) will feature a portal where professionals can connect and share ideas and information. (See www.cabi.ca).
- The International Business Innovation Association (InBIA) advances business incubation and entrepreneurship, globally. (See www.nbia.org).
- PARO Center in Thunder Bay offers incubator services that help women across Northern Ontario start and grow their own businesses. (See www.paro.ca).
- Hamilton Technology Center is a 40,000 ft² fibre optic equipped facility funded and operated by the City of Hamilton. It provides advisory services, networking, some back-office services, access to capital and administrative support on a fee-for-service basis. (See www.investinhamilton.ca/small-business/hamilton-technology-centre/).
- IDEAHUB is a full-service business incubator, offering flexible office space, lower start-up costs, support tools, guidance and other resources. It is led by the Municipality of Port Hope. (See www.myideahub.ca).
- Innovate Niagara offers two incubators. The Goodman School of Business BioLinc supports bioscience and health companies by providing office and lab space, equipment, business counselling and training and networking opportunities. BioLinc is housed at Brock University in St. Catharines. Generator at One provides tenancy and support to interactive digital media start-up companies. Facilities include a motion-capture studio, audio suite and a research and development lab which offers 3D printing and scanning capabilities. (See www.innovateniagara.com).
- The Genesis Centre in Newfoundland and Labrador offers successful applicants a three-year stay, to develop their technology-based ventures. Through a partnership with Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador, participants can access various university resources, including working space, 3D printing and chemistry and computer science facilities. Through a partnership with Microsoft, participants may be able to access Microsoft development tools, platforms and licences. (See www.genesiscentre.ca).