University incubators have the potential to build value for the healthcare system. However, universities face some unique issues when they try to launch startups.
Business incubators and accelerators are designed to create and launch startup companies and have exploded around the world since their inception in the late 1950s. Many are located or based on university campuses either within the technology transfer office or a business school or engineering school. Many health systems now have Innovation Centers.
Successful university incubators have certain traits and follow defined best practices. Here are a few:
1. They have defined objectives.
2. They have defined, well targeted customer segments.
3. They take advantage of particular assets within the university community.
4. They have a funding and business model that is sustainable and a way to hand off companies to scalerators.
5. They have done a good job of building the business case.
6. They have structures, policies, and procedures that support faculty entrepreneurs, not punish them with anti-entrepreneurial taxes or bureaucracy.
Putting these practices into place is a challenge and takes a long time. Barriers include:
1. Interdisciplinary, intercampus turf wars.
2. Lack of a consistent vision when leadership changes.
3. Not walking the talk.
4. Poor integration into supporting ecosystems.
5. A culture resistance to change.
6. A focus on the now instead of the new.
7. Faculty don’t have the time and space to innovate.
8. Not rewarding the scholarship of entrepreneurship.
9. A fundamental misunderstanding about the goals and principles of innovation and entrepreneurship.
10. Lack of faculty entrepreneurial mindset and knowledge, skills, and attitudes.
Successful university based incubators are a natural element of entrepreneurial universities. Since most universities produce knowledge technicians rather than entrepreneurial mindsets, most incubators, accelerators, and innovation centers fail to create measurable impact or deliver on their value proposition. Those that do, however, deliver value primarily to patients, but also to entrepreneurs, their firms, the regional economy, and national global competitiveness.