How does one start a tech incubator?
Hey, I have actually been asking the same sort of question to myself recently. I have lived in big attractive cities on different continents but now I am back to old Europe where nothing seems to be really moving anymore. It was a choice, I actually found out that I loved middle-sized cities of France.
As other answers indicate, a tech incubator may not be the right model for you and the place you leave. You should try to solve problems that exists where you are. You should meet the people that exists where you are. Or leave.
Actually, nobody will replicate Silicon Valley even with the billions dollars of research and real estate investment that are poured into it all over the world. No one will neither be able to recreate the industrial capacity of the Pearl River Delta. Forget about all that. You won ‘t make a tech incubator with multi-million dollars startups in your small town. Why? Because 1) it already exists 2) the people that have created it in the first place won ‘t let you replicate it so easily and most important 3) reality matters.
Instead ask yourself this : are you sure that what your city really need is a Y-Combinator ? Isn ‘t there anything more pressing, a much bigger issue, a more important problem to be solved ? Or if you really want a tech incubator, what sort of service should you offer ? To whom ? What is your goal here ?
To create billions of dollars by throwing capital-risk on 20-something running social network prototypes on their laptops is surely a thing that exists somewhere in the world - namely California. Around 1-5% of that usually succeed and people loves it : lots of flash, money, newspaper headlines, etc. Now here is the raw reality : 95-99% of this is just utter failures or very small victories at costs that are somehow indecent. Most of the energy, money and talks about the tech scene are wasted in order to drain a few successful and highly profitable examples. If you were not invited to the party, to see so much youngsters being thrown against the wall is actually a very ugly thing.
Now I bet in your hometown, you do not have this sort of resources to waste. How many retired tech millionaires in their 40s around you ? When was the last time your local university was mentioned in Tech Crunch ? Here, your starting point is not a remote model of a tech incubator somewhere in California. It is your life and the life of the people around you. It has value, believe me.
You should learn from the successful people on TV. Quora is good at this : you can almost touch them ! Then you should also be strategic and realistic about what you have to do with your own life. The Internet does well at promoting itself and its Western part is mostly run out of California. The tech industry occurs to have a huge, almost monopolistic, territorial concentration there. Now, there is several billions of people that need solutions to there daily problems elsewhere. Not every single thing in life have to be * “disrupted “* by a gigantic top-down * “paradigm shift “* coming from some place near the Silicon Valley. Small local family businesses can be absolutely awesome as well. Please appreciate success on its own terms, not in terms of the salesman.
I am in a second-tier French city and I see lots of really stupid things here. An example : there is a tech incubator in the city of Tours called Palo Al ‘tours. Honestly, I find the joke embarrassing. People all around the world make fun at the cheap counterfeit goods from China. Now this is exactly the same : a cheap version of something successful with the hope that it will eventually elevate the whole population into higher spheres. I am seeing this not only in a small town in France but all around the globe. Hugh resources and lots of talented people are allocated to make cheap copies of Silicon Valley. For them, that mean making good money. The common discourse is that it will eventually create jobs, but except for the 10 coders and 2 accountants, we are still waiting for the second part of the program here.
What is really happening : you see a bunch of people making prototypes of mobile applications. They usually run around looking very busy and when you talk to them they say that they are * “changing the world “. Now, really, deeply from the earth of thousands of people : nobody cares about that here. And you know what? Because this doesn ‘t exist here, it has no value. People are unemployed, trying hard to make ends meet and you are coming to them arguing : * “You should learn to code “. That may look very cynical. If you want to change the world, adjust yourself and sort some of the direct problems around you. That is a lifetime of work already.
The tech scene is “cool “ but please, if you are talented and willing to do something meaningful, try something else than a tech incubator. You will find support to do an incubator because timing and hype helps. You may find partners and money and gain some traction. Then be careful about building a rootless structure that is remote from the actual people in the area. It will eventually fail. Incubators in SV are not remote from their environment, they are integral part of it. So you have to be in sync with what is happening around you, each place being so different. There is tons of real problems on this planet, just a block from where you, your friends and family live. Just to end this : you should go to those “attractive “ places and big cities, see what people are doing well, see also how gross it can be. Think about what “life “ means there. Then come back to where you belong. Think again about what “life “ means. Then just make up your mind. If you really want a tech incubator, pack your stuff and go somewhere relevant (try Shenzhen, honestly). If you feel good where you are : go outside, seek the right people (those are hidden everywhere) and do something meaningful that matters to you and your loved ones.
Just write your own definition of success and go for it. Don ‘t waste your time living someone else ‘s life.
Look here, this is one of the most useful answer I have seen on Quora : Michael Wolfe ‘s answer to What is the single greatest piece of career advice, and why?
This text was originally published in quora.