Incubators - NYC, You're Doing it Right

Digital Mission to NYC - 160 Varick St, IncubatorThere were lots of highlights to this year's Digital Mission to New York, but one that stands out for me was the visit to the NYU:poly Incubator @ 160 Varick Street.

This initiative was announced by New York's Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, in February of this year, so it's still in its early days, although you wouldn't know it from looking around.

As the Digital Mission companies were given a tour by Micah Kotch, Operations Director and general making-things-happen guy there, the first thing that struck me was the scale of the facility: 16,500-square-foot, a whole floor of the Varick Street building, with over 20 companies, and even more associated indirectly with the incubator. There is everything a start-up business could want, including a receptionist, meeting rooms, mail facilities and so on.

The incubator houses a broad range of businesses, from information technology and green tech to fashion and film. There are regular structured meetings, where the companies can pitch to each other for practice, and to keep up with what each is doing. The meetings also include opportunities for each business to share what their current needs are, for example a contact they are hoping to make or resource they might need, so that they can support each other and pool resources and prospects. The "we can do more together than we can alone" philosophy echoes that of the Digital Mission, and it is one that I have seen work well over these last few years.

The space is provided at cost by Trinity Real Estate (the land was originally donated by Queen Anne in 1705!) and is leased and managed by the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. They pay just the maintenance and operations costs, and cover them through the rents charged to the companies. It is a self-sustaining model - the incubator will be cash-flow positive when the space is fully occupied.

“We don’t want to be competing with commercial office space providers. Our mission is to help a company here find a market for their product.” Micah Kotch

Business have to submit an application, which requires that they have a locally registered LLC and a 24 month cash-flow plan. Once they are in, the lease is renewed on a 6 monthly basis. This keeps a steady flow of businesses through the incubator, and ensures that each one keeps their eye-on-the-ball: getting funded and getting their product out.

The space was featured in the New York Times and is home to a growing band of start-ups. The businesses there took time out to talk to the Digital Mission visitors as we toured the desks and meeting rooms. It is a very impressive initiative, with an impressive set of people. The rent is incredibly affordable - a fraction of usual commercial rates - and for those that can't afford a permanent desk, "european-style hot desks" (hey, it made me smile :) ) are available at an even lower rate. The businesses clearly benefit from the shared resources and the mutual support and encouragement they get from each other.

I would love to see a model at this level of affordability and structure in the UK, supporting startups here.


Ravensbourne Incubation Programme

Ravensbourne College is running a successful business incubation programme for design and broadcast companies at its base in Chislehurst. From Oct 2010 we will be running this programme from our new hub in Greenwich, next to the O2.

We currently have 15 businesses ranging from product design to graphic design to broadcast all using our facilities free of charge and benefitting from a range of business support workshops and mentoring. This programme is funded through the European Regional Development Fund.

Please get in touch to find out more.

Carrie Wootten