In the collective sense, incubators and accelerators are structures whose vocation is to support the start-up in terms of size, technology, marketing, HRM, logistics and finance. We also understand that they are distinguished by the nature of their target (more or less mature or thematic start-ups), by the temporality of the support to the start-ups (more or less long), or the practices and services of support, see business models. Moreover, some point out that these structures vary according to geographical areas, their objectives and their carriers, but is this concept of start-up incubation (in the broadest sense) and its variations as clear as we are led to believe? Obviously not! All you need to do to convince yourself of this is to exchange a little with the “client” start-ups of these incubation structures…
This is why I approach this theme with a particular approach aimed at integrating what practitioners, the media and also academics have to say about it. Indeed, we often find that in the world of practitioners, the academic and scientific perception is rarely mentioned. If the business world is a serious matter, the fact remains that it often oscillates between rigour and approximation in the reasoning of the actors and the actions that result from it. A contribution from the academic world can be useful for a better understanding of the phenomenon of incubation and its various declinations.
We can consider that the interest in incubation was boosted by the 1999 law on innovation, both on the practitioner and academic sides. At the operational level, in France, the phenomenon of support structures for start-ups has been considerably strengthened, supported by national or regional public institutions, universities and independent entrepreneurs. It continues to grow. At the academic level, it must be said that although little research was carried out until the 2000s, many researchers have since been studying the phenomenon and trying to conceptualise it. In the 1980s, the research approach was intended to be descriptive, and in the 1990s, evaluative. While we can now consider that there is a “common understanding” of incubation, there is no universal definition of incubation. This is all the more marked since social factors specific to nations and to available resources may come into play. AIn order to give a first clarification of what could be understood by the term incubator, we base ourselves on the approach of the European Commission: ” A business incubator is an organisation that accelerates and systematises the process of creating successful enterprises by providing them with a comprehensive and integrated range of support, including: Incubator space, business support services, and clustering and networking opportunities. By providing their clients with services on a ‘one-stop-shop’ basis and enabling overheads to be reduced by sharing costs, business incubators significantly improve the survival and growth prospects of new start-ups. A successful business incubator will generate a steady flow of new businesses with above average job and wealth creation potential. Differences in stakeholder objectives for incubators, admission and exit criteria, the knowledge intensity of projects, and the precise configuration of facilities and services, will distinguish one type of business incubator from another “ (European Commission, 2002, Benchmarking of business incubators, Centre for Strategy and Evaluation Services, p.9).
This long definition is not an end in itself and can be widely discussed. In any case, it seems important to understand the different possible meanings around this very concrete concept of incubation, all the more so as new players are asserting their presence in this type of activity day after day. Large groups, for example, are gradually setting up such start-up support structures. They are called incubators or corporate accelerators. The relationship between large groups and start-ups, while it can take many forms, seems to be increasingly crystallized around this type of corporate structure, which is highly publicized in the media. These structures seem to be part of the entrepreneurial policy of large groups and must increasingly be a challenge (strategic? tactical? media?).
The next three posts will be totally dedicated to the different definitions of incubation and its variations, particularly within large groups. For this, I will rely on the perceptions of both practitioners and academics. The researcher differs in particular from the practitioners because he wants to legitimize the way he organizes research on the studied phenomenon. He begins by questioning the conditions of validity of the theoretical knowledge on which he intends to rely and the theoretical knowledge he intends to produce. The practitioner, for his part, writes about the organization according to his experience. He enjoys an exceptional situation as an observer and actor.
These approaches seem to me to be sufficiently complementary to mobilize on the one hand what is written in the media or said by practitioners, and on the other hand what our academics say about it. In other countries, the practitioners/academics alliance is made, and we would undoubtedly gain from it in France as well, to better understand the present and build the future…