Ever since we wound up at Return Path, I've been thinking a lot about the model of an incubator. We heard at the recent city council hearing that incubators were tough to keep up from an economic perspective and required all sorts of subsidies, either from government or academic institution.
But my situation isn't like that. Does having us use two empty desk cost Return Path real money? Sure... but how much? We use normal bandwidth for our regular office activities and hardly ever use the phone. We borrow a conference room about twice a week and we probably take two sodas/juices a day each from the free machine. I'd be surprised if our actual incremental cash cost was $150 a month. That's because there's already an existing, revenue generating organization in place there. When you try and create an incubator from scratch in an incubator-only space, you couldn't possibly get anywhere near that.
Think about the conference rooms alone. We would have never rented a place on our own with conference rooms, because we'd never use them enough. However, a mid-size company probably only use their own conference rooms, at most, half the time.
That's not to mention that RP could potentially get from us. We do like to think of ourselves as two cutting edge startup guys that are "in the know" about things like social media, data (Alex's specialty), etc., and we're pretty well connected into the community of entrepreneurs. I've already spoken some people here about doing some knowledge sharing sessions and we're happy to pitch in with some feedback where we can, because we're grateful for the space.
If we were social media consultants, what would that have cost the company? Certainly a lot more than the desks did. Seems to me that it could very well balance out if the exchange was a couple of desks for 5-10 hours of mindshare a month. Now, Return Path may not need that from us, because they're pretty savvy themselves, but what about a big print media company looking to expand their web presence? I'm sure Jeff Jarvis would agree that rather than move forward in an echo chamber, a media company like that might benefit from having a few startup folks around the office to help them out. Perhaps they could be instilled as VPs of Common Web Sense.
So here's the deal I propose that companies with 50 or more people think about:
- 1-3 desks per seed stage startup
- Internet connection for normal office usage
- Reasonable access to unused conference rooms (prob not more than 5-7 hours/wk, but could be more if they're usually pretty empty)
- Building security passes
- Goodwill in the startup community
- 5-10 hours of mindshare from people who are thinking out of the box (which is why it makes sense to find startups in your vertical, too)
Similar models have worked in the art world, where artists occupy unused commercial real estate spaces as studios and galleries.
It's also a very green model, too, if you think about it. It's about efficient use of existing space.
Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Diggs? Tags? Any companies want to sign up?