From incubator to real world: expert advice from Steve Baxter

Sylvia Pennington

Business incubators can provide a low cost, supportive environment for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to turn their smart ideas into successful enterprises.

But what happens when the time comes to leave the co-working nest?

Are there secrets to soaring, not sinking, when you eventually strike out on your own?

Yes, says IT entrepreneur and Shark Tank star Steve Baxter, whose Brisbane-based business accelerator River City Labs has helped a clutch of high tech hopefuls make the transition from shoestring startup to viable enterprise.

“Companies that make a go of it when they leave an incubator or accelerator are the ones that have viewed their time there as more than life support,” Baxter says.

“They soak up the knowledge and make the connections that will help them on their onward journey.”

Companies that make a go of it when they leave an incubator or accelerator are the ones that have viewed their time there as more than life support.

River City alumnus Mark Fletcher agrees.

The CEO of Cohort Solutions, a platform offering a suite of products for the international education sector, Fletcher spent two years in residence at River City Labs before flying the coop in November 2014. In the intervening 18 months his business has established nine offshore outposts and grown from a team of five to 32.

“The end game is clearly that your business isn’t going to be in there forever so you need to be thinking about the skills and networks and processes you need to have in place when you leave and build those up as you go,” Fletcher says.

“Finding the right mentors and advisors is pretty key.”

So too is being able to organise yourself effectively when you’re no longer surrounded by folk who can help you stay focused.

“Typically co-working spaces or accelerators have a number of processes and events, like Monday morning stand-ups and Friday afternoon reviews, that give some structure to the week,” Fletcher says.

“You need to be self disciplined enough to motivate yourself.”

You need to start planning to leave from the minute you arrive.

Being prepared for the expenses associated with setting up shop is also vital.

“Not just the rent and the risk associated with signing a commercial lease but insurance premiums, utilities, car parking spaces, internet…” Fletcher says.

“Typically in an accelerator environment some of those things are fully paid for or heavily subsidised so it’s important to understand what you’ll be up for when you move on, and plan accordingly.”

Begin your stretch with the end in mind and you’ll up your chances of flying rather than flopping.

“Making sure we had those I’s dotted and T’s crossed before we left River City Labs and understanding what was coming our way has served us well,” Fletcher says.

“You need to start planning to leave from the minute you arrive.”

Sylvia Pennington

Sylvia Pennington is a Brisbane-based freelance journalist who writes about small business, information technology and personal finance.

×