Product, Service & Design Innovation
Business Incubators Helping Sustainability Startups Thrive

As a newborn startup, going it alone isn’t easy. Although the romantic conception of the birthplace of world-changing, disruptive businesses tends to be Harvard dorm rooms or parents' basements, this just isn’t the case for most fledgling firms.

And having a great idea doesn’t guarantee that it will translate into a viable long-standing company. Often the devil is in the most mundane details, such as accounting, office space and legal services. In response to these growing needs, dozens of business “incubators” have sprouted up across the country to help nurture startups into the “next big thing.”

The National Business Incubation Association (NBIA) estimates that 87 percent of the firms that have graduated from their member incubators are still in business, which is pretty good considering that 90 percent of startups ultimately fail.

Surviving and thriving as an environmentally and socially-conscious startup can be even more challenging, particularly if profit isn’t the only objective. While many incubators focus on firms looking to build the next great freemium video game or selfie-sharing app, a new kind of incubator is emerging that focuses on sustainable business entrepreneurship.

A sustainable business incubator called Green Spaces, which houses around 100 firms between its New York City and Denver offices, houses businesses such as Via, a transportation service that provides rides to New Yorkers in WiFi-enabled vans while saving the emissions those individuals’ vehicles would have contributed, and a.d.o. (Anjelika Dreams Organic), a clothing creator with products in stores in states including Alabama, California, New York and West Virginia.

In New Jersey, The Rutgers University EcoComplex — known as New Jersey’s first environmental research and outreach center — houses a few sustainable business startups. A notable alumnus is TerraCycle, which now operates in 20 countries and makes $20 million per year. The company moved into the EcoComplex in 2004, and just three years later was selling its products in Walmart and Home Depot.

In San Francisco, Impact Hub Bay Area nurtures companies and organizations aimed at driving positive environmental and social change. It houses nonprofits such as and sustainable business media company Triple Pundit, and a sustainability graduate school, Presidio Graduate School.

In Dallas, which is home to an emerging tech and startup scene, The Grove has become a local leader as a collaborative work space focused on cultivating community and collaboration between startups, non-profits and creatives. Located in the historic West End district of Dallas, co-working space provides the resources necessary for entrepreneurs, freelances, consultants and change-agents to cultivate ideas and grow their business and organizations to their full potential. The Grove has identified 7 pillars of change which include health, the environment, and education, and targets social enterprises and entrepreneurs working to tackle these global issues.

These sustainable business incubators house tenants that create technologies to deploy renewable energy, sell organic foods or engage in social entrepreneurship, among others. They provide the working space and infrastructure needed to help sustainability startups to grow into world-changing enterprises they aspire to be.

Here are three benefits incubators can provide:

Resources and Guidance

Building a company from scratch isn’t always fun — and laying the right infrastructure can determine whether your enterprise grows or comes collapsing to the ground. Incubators offer tangible resources, such as accounting assistance, office space and legal guidance, which allows the startup to focus on its core business. As important as infrastructure is, getting caught up in the mundane, day-to-day administrative responsibilities can inhibit a firm’s ability to grow.

Many incubators also are home to angel investors, venture capitalists and others who are able to mentor entrepreneurs and help them learn from their past mistakes.

Access to powerful networks

“It’s all about who you know,” as the saying goes, and sustainable business incubators do an excellent job of bringing together innovators and entrepreneurs who are focused on creating a stronger and more flourishing future. There also is strength in numbers, and being part of an incubator can give your new company “street cred,” whether it’s with potential investors or the media. Also, there's no telling who you'll meet through connections made at an incubator.

Collaboration pushes companies forward

Incubators tend to foster spirits of camaraderie rather than competition. Working alongside other forward-thinking entrepreneurs can help you build strong, collaborative networks that help your company grow. Some firms find opportunities to directly work with others in the same incubator, while others might simply serve as mentors. Making mistakes and learning from them comes with the territory of starting a new company, but being part of a support system that allows you to learn from the mistakes of others can give you an edge that will help keep your firm healthy.


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