To be hatched in an incubator is quite common and important in Brazil. The technology-based incubators are of fundamental importance in the national and international strategy. In the recent mapping of the biotech industry in Brazil, coordinated by the Brazilian Association of Biotechnology – Biotech-BR with the support from APEX Brazil, we found that more than 50% of Brazilian-formed biotech enterprises were linked to an incubator.
But what does it mean to be created in an incubator? The incubator provides a good cost-benefit equation, and the entrepreneur feels supported by the physical structure, but more importantly, there is a sense of integration that occurs between businesses located in close proximity. New ideas come up during a coffee break, and there can be businesses that complement, or even compete against, one another. Another key point is to make entrepreneurs think long term and imagine the future.
Often, a small business is an avalanche of daily problems and decisions, which can hinder long-term view. What will I do, where are the opportunities, how should I position myself? In a small business, these sorts of questions can be stifled by daily needs, and true growth really happens only by leaps. Being in an incubator requires business plans, reports, consultants, information, forcing companies to stop and think about those long-term questions.
Another important variable is the entrepreneur’s ability to handle the stress of business. Technology entrepreneurs often leave an extremely safe structure (imagine an university) to enter into something very insecure: a start-up business. At this point, being in an incubator helps to handle this insecurity, because we look at each other and see that if the other can do it, so can we. Being close to other entrepreneurs and other examples comforts us. This aspect of dealing with problems calmly and wisely is a hallmark of a good entrepreneur!
And then comes a very fundamental question: why start a business anyway? The answer seems to be simple: to earn money. That is an important answer for the investors, but it has to be more than that. It is also the satisfaction of meeting a challenge. Some entrepreneurs define it as walking close to the edge (preferably without falling in!). I sometimes say it’s like taking a step without knowing where the foot will land.
The model incubator and technology park is critical to any country’s biotech development. In Brazil, the success of more than 50% of the biotech startups depend on it. I believe that there will soon be a new era of globalization or internationalization of incubators. When we think about our companies, we must think of them as international. If incubators work well at the regional level, they also will work internationally. Even a small company can think of creating a subsidiary in another country using the network of incubators and technology parks. In Brazil, we are already doing it!
Being an entrepreneur in biotech is fantastic, and incubators help us organize our thoughts and put our feet on the ground!