National Business Incubation Association; Your source for knowledge and networks in business incubation

More Information

2012 State of the Business Incubation Industry

Business Incubation Works

Incubating in Rural Areas

Incubating Technology Businesses

Best Practices in Action

2006 State of the Business Incubation Industry

2002 State of the Business Incubation Industry

1998 State of the Business Incubation Industry

Business Incubation FAQ

Frequently asked questions about business incubation.

What are business incubators?

Is business incubation a new industry?

How many business incubators are there?

What are the different types of business incubators?

Who sponsors business incubators?

What makes a business incubator successful?

How do incubators help start-ups get funding?

How do incubators contribute to local and regional economies?

Why are business incubators worthy of government subsidies?

Do business incubators that receive local funding and/or tax abatements compete unfairly with local landlords?

How do business incubators differ from research parks?

How do business incubators differ from SBDCs?

How do business incubators differ from coworking spaces?

How do business incubators differ from business accelerators?

What is a virtual incubator?

What is NBIA?

Who belongs to NBIA?

How does the performance of NBIA members compare with that of other incubation programs?

What is NBIA’s mission?

Sources of Data

What are business incubators?

Business incubators nurture the development of entrepreneurial companies, helping them survive and grow during the start-up period, when they are most vulnerable. These programs provide their client companies with business support services and resources tailored to young firms. The most common goals of incubation programs are creating jobs in a community, enhancing a community’s entrepreneurial climate, retaining businesses in a community, building or accelerating growth in a local industry, and diversifying local economies. Click here for a more complete description of business incubation.

Is business incubation a new industry?

No. The term “business incubator” gained popularity in the media with the explosion and subsequent demise of so-called Internet incubators between 1999 and 2001, but the business incubation model traces its beginnings to the late 1950s. Click here for more information about the history of business incubation.

How many business incubators are there?

As of October 2012, there were over 1,250 incubators in the United States, up from only 12 in 1980. NBIA estimates that there are about 7,000 business incubators worldwide. The incubation model has been adapted to meet a variety of needs, from fostering commercialization of university technologies to increasing employment in economically distressed communities to serving as an investment vehicle.

What are the different types of business incubators?

Incubation programs come in many shapes and sizes and serve a variety of communities and markets:

  • Most North American business incubators (about 93 percent) are nonprofit organizations focused on economic development. About 7 percent of North American incubators are for-profit entities, usually set up to obtain returns on shareholders investments.
  • 54 percent are “mixed-use,” assisting a range of early-stage companies.
  • 37 percent focus on technology businesses.
  • About 6 percent focus on service businesses, serve niche markets or assist other types of businesses.
  • 3 percent serve manufacturing firms.
  • About 47 percent of business incubators operate in urban areas, 28 percent operate in rural areas and about 25 percent operate in suburban areas.

    Source: 2012 State of the Business Incubation Industry

Who sponsors business incubators?

Incubator sponsors – organizations or individuals who support an incubation program financially – may serve as an incubator’s parent or host organization or may simply make financial contributions to the incubator.

  • About 32 percent of North American business incubators are sponsored by academic institutions.
  • 25 percent are sponsored by economic development organizations.
  • 16 percent are sponsored by government entities.
  • 4 percent are sponsored by other types of organizations.
  • 4 percent of business incubators are “hybrids” with more than one sponsor.
  • 4 percent are sponsored by for-profit entities.
  • 15 percent of incubators have no sponsor or host organization.
  • Source: 2012 State of the Business Incubation Industry

What makes a business incubator successful?

To lay the groundwork for a successful incubation program, incubator developers must first invest time and money in a feasibility study. An effective feasibility study will help determine whether the proposed project has a solid market, a sound financial base and strong community support – all critical factors in an incubator’s success. Once established, model business incubation programs commit to industry best practices such as structuring for financial sustainability, recruiting and appropriately compensating management with company-growing skills, building an effective board of directors, and placing the greatest emphasis on client assistance.

How do incubators help start-ups get funding?

Incubators help client companies secure capital in a number of ways:

  • Managing in-house and revolving loan and microloan funds
  • Connecting companies with angel investors (high-net-worth individual investors)
  • Working with companies to perfect venture capital presentations and connecting them to venture capitalists
  • Assisting companies in applying for loans

How do incubators contribute to local and regional economies?

Incubator graduates create jobs, revitalize neighborhoods and commercialize new technologies, thus strengthening local, regional and even national economies.

  • NBIA estimates that in 2011 alone, North American incubators assisted about 49,000 start-up companies that provided full-time employment for nearly 200,000 workers and generated annual revenue of almost $15 billion.
  • Source: 2012 State of the Business Incubation Industry

  • Business incubators reduce the risk of small business failures. Historically, NBIA member incubators have reported that 87 percent of all firms that have graduated from their incubators are still in business.

    Source: Business Incubation Works

Why are business incubators worthy of government subsidies?

Government subsidies for well-managed business incubation programs represent strong investments in local and regional economies. Consider these returns:

  • Research has shown that for every $1 of estimated public operating subsidy provided the incubator, clients and graduates of NBIA member incubators generate approximately $30 in local tax revenue alone.

    Source: Extrapolated from data in Business Incubation Works

  • NBIA members have reported that 84 percent of incubator graduates stay in their communities.

    Source: Business Incubation Works

Do business incubators that receive local funding and/or tax abatements compete unfairly with local landlords?

No. Business incubators actually contribute to the long-term viability of the local real estate market. Incubation programs graduate strong and self-supporting companies into their communities, where these companies build, purchase or rent space. Because incubated companies are more likely to succeed than nonincubated firms, landlords of incubator graduates face far less risk than they otherwise would. Also, while they’re in the start-up phase, incubator client companies can obtain flexible space and leases that are more appropriate to their stage of growth than they could on the commercial market.

How do business incubators differ from research parks?

Research parks (sometimes called science parks or technology parks) are property-based ventures consisting of research and development facilities for technology- and science-based companies. Research parks often promote community economic development and technology transfer. They tend to be larger-scale projects than business incubators, often spanning many acres or miles. Research parks house everything from corporate, government, and university labs to big and small companies. Unlike business incubators, research parks do not offer comprehensive programs of business assistance. However, an important component of some research parks is a business incubator focused on early-stage companies.

How do business incubators differ from SBDCs?

The U.S. Small Business Administration administers the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) program to provide general business assistance to current and prospective small business owners. SBDCs (and similar programs) differ from business incubators in that they do not specifically target early-stage companies; they often serve small businesses at any stage of development. Some business incubators partner and share management with SBDCs to avoid duplicating business assistance services in a region.

How do business incubators differ from coworking spaces?

Coworking spaces offer a gathering point for independent contractors and freelancers who want to eliminate the isolation of working from home or wish to collaborate with other freelancers. Some may also offer networking opportunities and basic technical assistance. While the primary value of co-working is the interaction with other professionals, the primary value of an incubation program is its mix of business assistance services specifically targeted to emerging companies. Those services generally extend well beyond networking and basic technical assistance.

How do business incubators differ from business accelerators?

People sometimes use the term business accelerator as another term for business incubator in an attempt to differentiate themselves in the market. During the dot-com boom that occurred around 2000, numerous terms like “accelerator” emerged to describe business incubation programs. In the current market, many of these terms have fallen away, but accelerator remains a relatively popular term to describe business incubation programs.

What is a virtual incubator?

NBIA traditionally has defined virtual incubation as the delivery of incubation services solely through electronic means. However, the term may be used interchangeably with “affiliate program” for services delivered to clients that are not in residence in an incubator. "Virtual incubation" also may be used to denote a program that offers services to clients who are located far away from an incubator, when the program does not offer any multi-tenant space.

What is NBIA?

The National Business Incubation Association (NBIA) is the world’s leading organization advancing business incubation and entrepreneurship. Each year, it provides thousands of professionals with information, education, advocacy and networking resources to bring excellence to the process of assisting early-stage companies.

Who belongs to NBIA?

NBIA serves more than 2,100 members in more than 50 nations. While incubator managers and developers make up a large share of NBIA’s membership base, the association also represents other interested individuals and groups. Approximately 25 percent of the NBIA membership is from outside the United States.

How does the performance of NBIA members compare with that of other incubation programs?

NBIA or other professional association membership does not guarantee success, but having access to a wealth of industry resources and a support group of professionals to turn to for advice when times get tough makes the challenges of operating an incubation program more manageable. As a result, NBIA member incubators generally outperform their nonmember counterparts.

  • NBIA member programs have higher staffing levels and serve more clients.
  • Clients of member incubators create more full-time jobs than clients of nonmember incubators.
  • Average revenue at NBIA member incubation programs is significantly higher than at nonmember programs.

    Source: Extrapolated from data in 2012 State of the Business Incubation Industry

What is NBIA’s mission?

NBIA advances the business creation process to increase entrepreneurial success and individual opportunity, strengthening communities worldwide. To accomplish this mission, NBIA serves as a clearinghouse of information on incubator management and development issues. The association engages in many activities that support members’ professional development, including

  • Organizing conferences and specialized trainings
  • Conducting research and compiling statistics on the incubation industry
  • Producing publications that describe practical approaches to business incubation
  • Consulting with governments and corporations on incubator development

Sources of Data

Knopp, Linda. 2012 State of the Business Incubation Industry. Athens, Ohio: NBIA Publications, 2012.

University of Michigan, National Business Incubation Association, Ohio University, and Southern Technology Council. Business Incubation Works: The Results of the Impact of Incubator Investments Study. Athens, Ohio: NBIA Publications, 1997.

Contact NBIA

Phone: (740) 593-4331
Fax: (740) 593-1996
PO Box 959
Athens, OH 45701-1565
info@nbia.org