Are Startup Incubators too focused on Technology?

I tackled a similar question last year, but two articles I came across recently got me thinking.

Are incubators worth the trouble for startups?

But Vijayashanker took a pass. She’d noticed that many incubators focus heavily on technology development but didn’t teach the business skills she wanted to master. “I was talking to people who had graduated from these business incubators, and the vast majority were still asking business questions,” she recalls. “They were talking about ‘How do we market? How do we find customers?'” As she did her research, she found that entrepreneurs in a variety of fields who’d built a company outside of the incubator scene “had the most knowledge and experience,” she said.

The there’s Google Ventures, which takes a more collaborative incubation approach to jump-starting innovation:

Maris’s formula includes an unusual emphasis on data–and a team of researchers to quantify elements that lead to successful investments. Then there’s his Startup Lab. According to just about everyone in the startup scene, including rival VCs, Google Ventures is one of the most hands-on, full-service funders in the Valley. “They have recruiting partners, design partners, engineering partners, user research partners,” says Somrat Niyogi, who has raised money from Google Ventures for his social TV startup Miso. “That kind of structure, you just don’t get in the VC community. Period.”

As I previosly wrote, this type of thinking is making its way across the border in Tijuana. For example, I’m one of the organizers of Startup Weekend Tijuana, which will be held at MindHub. A Startup Incubator in Tijuana.

In this incubator, you’ll find technology minded people and conversations. Lots of engineers and graphic designers. Human speak? Not really. The stuff I hear around here is ‘how can we create a Pinterest for México’, or ‘the Foodista for México”. Not innovation speak if you ask me.

I find nothing wrong with creating a startup culture powered by technologists. It’s good to know that my city is at least making an effort. It also makes sense to think that because it works in Silicon Valley, it’s going to work everywhere else. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Silicon Valley works because it has a powerful ecosystem of  Universities, engineering driven companies, a diverse community of people and an active venture capital community. None of which exist in most cities. Including Tijuana.

Replicating this model will take time but I believe there is a BIG opportunity to do something different instead of copying and trying to replicate a formula that everyone else replicating.

Why not create an MIT Media Lab/IDEO incubator?

Think about it, what if you mixed culture and arts with technology? All in the same place? Sharing work space with each other working side by side.

I think this is where the idea of co-working spaces, as an alternative to incubators, becomes very powerful. For example, I have my México office in a shared workspace by IOS Offices. It’s not necessarily a co-working space because it has closed offices and meeting rooms, but it has the potential because it has open spaces. Yet little collaboration, if nothing at all, happens. For the most part, people are focused on getting some business from their next door neighbor. This is not conducive to create creative collision.

The creative collision required to create sparks needs a mix between diverse people from different backgrounds. Not an accountant talking to a Management Consultant. Unless the accountant suddenly gets an epiphany, and decides he’s to become a renegade and starts questioning the reason for the existence of his profession, creative sparks won’t fly.

What we need are non-profit entrepreneurs talking to user experience designers. We need actors talking to accountants. We need cognitive psychologists talking to architects. We need technologists talking to care takers. We need Management Consultants talking to social entrepreneurs. Etc, etc, etc..

You get the picture.

That’s what I think. Incubators should be about inspiring humans to empower humans. For this we need different heads at the table, not just technologists.

What do you think?

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