Pursuing Impact Through Human Outcomes: Becoming an Entrepreneur Incubator
90% of Startups Fail
That’s a tough pill to swallow, especially when startups operate out of Domi Station on a daily basis. With this daunting number as a national statistic, we began exploring our own programs to see how we can better prepare entrepreneurs in Tallahassee to find success in their ventures. As an effort to keep up with entrepreneurs at Domi, we survey them twice a year to assess how their startups are doing. This year, we decided to dig a bit deeper with those entrepreneurs that had not been successful in their startup. We uncovered an interesting pattern: entrepreneurs that faced an early failure often found success later with another startup venture. A negative outcome for the startup is not necessarily the final fate of the entrepreneur. In fact, these initial failures bring invaluable experiences, connections, and opportunities to the entrepreneur which can be capitalized in a variety of ways, sometimes in a new venture or a new career.
While we asked ourselves how we could improve startup outcomes, we came to the conclusion that there is a better question to ask: How can we improve entrepreneur outcomes?
Traditional incubation programs focus on the business model, the numbers, and operation. Our new entrepreneurship programs will still develop these fundamental skills but make the main focus improving human outcomes for the entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are the force behind ventures. Sure, great ideas can take off but without a great entrepreneur, even the greatest idea can flop. Likewise, a great entrepreneur can make a not so great idea skyrocket. Knowing this, we decided to redefine the way we approach entrepreneurship. We’re shifting our focus from startups to entrepreneurs, transforming Domi into an entrepreneur incubator.
Through this new lens, it became clear that we could provide more value to entrepreneurs by taking advantage of our existing community assets, like mentors and supporters, while also leveraging emerging online content and resources through an experiential approach. It was time to take our own advice, disrupt ourselves, and 10x our impact. With this in mind, we designed our new programs around the following key tenets:
Entrepreneurs learn at different speeds and come from different starting points: We have accumulated and identified great educational content on entrepreneurship, but entrepreneurs need flexibility and customization in how and when they learn. Some entrepreneurs are just beginning with an idea while others have already launched and need to learn how to scale.
Entrepreneurs are doers and would rather spend their time creating value for their business: We have seen the most success and growth in our entrepreneurs when we can engage them in building tangible value for their business, like creating a prototype, developing financial projections, or crafting a pitch.
Each entrepreneurial journey is unique but is better when shared with peers: The path each entrepreneur takes to build their startup is different but it is invaluable to have mentors and peers to bounce ideas off of, compare experiences, be challenged and held accountable. Building and growing a startup can be an isolating and taxing experience, having a welcoming, resourceful, and supportive community is critical for the well being of the entrepreneur and the success of their ventures.
Entrepreneurial content has become easier to access. It’s growing in quantity, diversity, and accessibility but starting sustainable businesses continues to be challenging: There is an abundance of online resources that teach entrepreneurship and it can be overwhelming. It is critical to curate content and tools to make things easier for entrepreneurs. In addition, we are expecting a significant influx of entrepreneurs requesting our help as our local universities ramp up their entrepreneurship programs and as entrepreneurial newcomers continue to flow into Tallahassee, fleeing high-cost areas of the US and the state.
Based on the above, we redesigned our entrepreneurship programs from the ground up. Our new programs are predicated on a flexible approach where we can meet each individual entrepreneur where they are, whether it be developing a product or a sales pipeline. Based on feedback from past participants, the Gear-Up and Ascend programs were born. These two programs are designed specifically for early stage and growth stage ventures. With this new structure to entrepreneurial development and incubation, entrepreneurs with an idea or existing business are able to receive the support they need at the right time in their journey.
The GearUp program is an online based modular program designed for early-stage ventures and ideas. Modules include team creation, product development, marketing & sales, financial modeling, and incorporation. Each module is one month long and provides entrepreneurs the framework to develop their business to prepare for launch or refine certain areas of an existing business. The curriculum and educational content is available online and is paired with hands-on and in-person workshops. This program is unique in that entrepreneurs can customize their Gear Up journey, only taking the modules they need once they have shown prerequisite completion. With this approach, entrepreneurial development is more flexible and convenient, with the ability to be completed at each individual’s pace.
Ascend is a competitive program for entrepreneurs that have validated their business idea, have started working on their venture and are ready to take the next steps towards growth. Entrepreneurs that have “growing pains” who need guidance as they scale are ideal candidates for this program. Entrepreneurs are paired with a lead mentor for six months and have a structure of support to scale their ventures during the duration of the program. Mentors provide assistance with goal setting, creating an implementation strategy, and serve as accountability partners for the entrepreneur. During Ascend, entrepreneurs will have access to our city-wide mentor network and will also join other entrepreneurs who are running scalable companies. Ascend will offer entrepreneurs an all-inclusive Domi membership in addition to other resources to help them scale their ventures.
The incubator has been historically a "business factory" where the driving assumption is that business formation follows a straightforward process that can be coded and replicated. By focusing solely on the business, which is by nature fleeting, traditional incubation leaves out the one lasting factor, the source of new businesses and ideas: the entrepreneur. While having a solid business model and implementation strategy is required for a successful business, the founder behind a startup is the critical ingredient without which the venture is not possible. Our new approach to incubation harnesses the power that personal development in a founder can have on their business operations, ultimately leading to greater impact. Our theory is that if we focus on developing entrepreneurs as founders, surround them with a dynamic community and the right resources, then entrepreneurs will not only grow their ventures but our local entrepreneurial ecosystem as well. As an incubator, we are constantly evolving to improve the way we support entrepreneurs, Domi’s Gear Up and Ascend programs are a critical piece in accomplishing that mission.