Effective November 1st, 2014 the experimental audience building space my husband, Chuck, and I created inside of iaeou will close.
Designed to be an extension of our education program, our physical space served as an incubator for customer acquisition for small and medium sized businesses. Our members hosted meet and greets with clients, networking events to develop relationships for their products and services, mini showcase expo style events, trunk shows, art openings, workshops- whatever customer engagement a new business might need with regards to physical space, iaeou offered up. The idea was developed when students in our 2nd pilot program needed a location to work and meet clients, but more importantly wanted to spend more time together.
Our hypothesis was that when people are brought together through iaeou’s education model, they work together in meaningful growth oriented ways, transparently communicate and work with direction and purpose. And when they do not, the don’t develop the thinking skills needed to form deep trusted bonds, they communicate far less transparently and their self motivation wanes.
In our pilot education program, as we provided resources- education, space and food- to those who had elected to commit themselves to the program, we found students moved closer to us and to each other. They worked harder to communicate, utilized shared resources both physical and intellectual and made significant progress with the development of their ideas. They also began to work together on each others projects by allowing their input to help them make key decisions in their business.
In iaeou’s incubator, when we provided education, space and food to members who had not made a commitment to themselves and their education, we discovered they took what they wanted to take but engaged very infrequently with other members and did not build the bonds necessary to help them as a group collectively leverage up their shared skills and resources to create new opportunities. While many of our members hosted amazing events, the vast majority worked with none of the complimentary services available within the membership that could have helped them to advance.
Our experiment also allowed us to experience, first hand, the nature of human nature. In sales, as in life, if you give someone everything they ask for, and ask nothing in return from them, they take, or try to take, more from you. Human nature, really, right? The irony of this is that everyone in our incubator was there to increase their customer base, and yet, the disconnect between the way our membership treated us and each other, and what they hoped to develop with the things we provided, was never recognized by our members. And certainly it was not for a lack of trying on our part. We repeatedly tried to bring them all together to network and grow their relationships with each other- to no avail. We tried match making business and services together with little to no success. We modified our website to increase chatting between membership and asked them to spell out what they skills they had they would barter for other skills, resources or support from other members too. We also tried engaging them to communicate more with us directly, but repeatedly only heard from members when they needed something from us.
In our pilot education program, because students were building new thinking skills and learning how to form productive partnerships and relationships with fellow classmates, a key design feature in how we deliver our course content, the resources they were given by us were viewed as ‘perks’. Students naturally formed bonds with others and were hungry to partner, learn, explore what new relationships can provide for them.
While the nature of education is suppose to create this kind of momentum, we all know it often does not. And by bringing small and medium sized business together in a physical space through incubation might also seems like it would dramatically increase collaboration and sharing, it too often does not. Anecdotally, I have observed that many incubators and accelerators, ironically, have this very problem. While a lot of individuals are there focused on their initiatives, they share little else above and beyond the space and resources they all have come there for. What we learned from this experiment is that helping small and medium sized businesses grow their networks, opportunities and resources has little to nothing to do with them physically being housed in the same space. What is required is a commitment to growth, a vehicle for developing relationships and their network to advance their opportunity, access to capital and low cost or free resources, and the education to support their development. All of these things can be delivered online just as effectively as in person and at a much lower cost.
While iaeou’s education model was conceived to be delivered online, given the number of incubators and accelerators who are building brick and mortar environments for their members, we felt fully understanding this model was important.
I find it interesting what Mark Cuban said in an article from the Triangle Business Journey this past March:
There are too many incubators and that has hurt them all. Too many entrepreneurs think if they get into an incubator they have accomplished something. They haven’t. It’s a false sense of confidence. Call it incubator inflation. Stop talking about the startups. Many of them are going to go out of business before the ads hit or the conferences happen. Brag about the exits and how there is capital waiting for amazing entrepreneurs to reach their goals.
As the entrepreneurship space continued to grow, there will need be a rethink about the meaning of incubation and how it can be realized at a far lower cost. I am certainly happy to be out from under the fundraising pressures associated with brick and mortar environments. I would far prefer to see the money raised for incubation and accelerator go into resources directed back into the hands of the clients- the entrepreneurs and start-ups that are struggling to make their dreams a reality- instead of into the hands of the landlord.
This experiment has informed iaeou’s next steps considerably. We are excited to be moving into beta online shortly.
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