What makes a good business incubator? Ask Yoda.

What makes a good business incubator? Ask Yoda.


Last week, Anthill welcomed its first three companies into the Anthill Incubator.

And I’m excited!

While most new projects seem daunting, those worth pursuing are also heart-racingly thrilling — offering a blank canvas to test and trial all those ideas that have been swilling around the brain since a project’s inception.

In this case, the Anthill incubator has been a long held dream, since those early days when Anthill was run from the spare bedroom of my parents’ home, in 2003. (Back then, the pink curtains and my sister’s Wham posters would have put off even the most enthusiastic tenant. Although, I suspect, free sandwiches, care of ‘Ma’ Tuckerman, would have created a novel selling point.)

As such, I’ve had plenty of time to ponder the question: What makes a good business incubator?

While access to the internet, clean bathrooms and top-notch meeting areas are all important, here are my three ‘concepts’ for creating a collegial working environment for fast-growth SMEs.

1. Create a deity

A business incubator is a lot like a small tribe.

Mores, customs and standards of behaviour inevitably evolve. Yes, a tribe needs rules.

And what better way to enforce these rules than through the creation of a deity?

That is why, when an Anthill Incubator tenant breaks a rule — leaves the door unlocked, uses the last piece of paper in the fax without refilling it, borrows a pen and then chews it beyond recognition — he or she must pay tribute to… wait for it… Yoda.

He or she must pay a gold coin (two for repeat offenders) to the Yoda money bank. All proceeds will be spent on other tools to foster social cohesion (like coffee, beer, Chardonnay, Doritos).

2. Get a Cheers vibe happening

When I mention 80s sitcom Cheers, what’s the first thing that pops into your brain?

A young Woody Harrelson? The grouchy yet loveable Carla? Ted Danson with real hair?

No, it’s likely that you’ll remember the show’s opening theme tune: “Where everybody knows your name.” That’s why the Anthill Incubator, as it’s first ‘public work’, recently installed a ‘Wall of Fame’ — a simple whiteboard for the placement of polaroids and accolades. (Thank you Miriam and Jeremy.) This way, when an incubator tenant has a good day — experiences even the smallest victory — we can acknowledge and post the news for all to see.

“Hey Norm” is not good enough for an incubator environment.

“Hey Norm, well done on completing that BETA test” is a greeting worth pursuit. “Hey Carla, well done on your latest hire” is a greeting to be said enthusiastically. “Hey Cliff, well done on that big new client win” is a greeting worth celebrating. (Possibly paid for with tributes to Yoda.)

3. Learn from the Amish

Amish men grow beards.

They also cook oats and, occasionally, help their neighbours build barns.

While that just about exhausts my knowledge of the Amish, this personal ignorance doesn’t stop me admiring and aspiring to possess all three qualities.

I can’t cook. (Not even oats). I’m follicly challenged. (Even Lex Luthor pities me.)

What I can do, however, is rally a crowd to pursue a common goal. And this is a quality that I hope to instill among our incubator companies, through the Anthill Incubator ‘Build a barn day.’

While not yet tested, the idea involves one day of collaborative work, once a month, organised by and on behalf of one of the incubator companies.

For example, ‘Tenant A’ needs help with sales.

He or she leans on his or her contacts to recruit a sales coach for a half-day workshop or seminar. Every tenant is invited. Every tenant who attends benefits from the workshop, then is required to spend the afternoon applying that knowledge for the benefit of Tenant A (and for their own benefit, of course, through the act of applied learning).

Together, they ‘build a barn’.

Meet our first tenants

The Anthill Incubator welcomed three new tenants last week.

123cars (www.123cars.com.au)

123cars brings the group buying model to cars. Whereas most attempts to apply this model to the auto industry have relied on ’empowering’ cars buyers to create groups, this model works directly with the car dealers to create an environment that requires little or no involvement from the buyer. Car prices start at a price cheaper than you will find in just about any dealership and continue to get cheaper the more people who buy during the deal cycle.

Groups are formed not by car model or year… but by make (i.e. Toyota, Ford, Mitsubishi), which vastly increases the potential size of any group. More.

BusinessPlanningHQ (www.businessplanninghq.com)

BusinessPlanningHQ is an online tool developed to help business builders create a business plan. It does not involve industry ‘cookie-cutter’ templates, but a unique proprietary technology that guides users through a step-by-step process, culminating in a detailed, visually appealing and financially defensible document. More.

Something caffeinated

This venture is too new to be promoted on the Anthill website (by request of the founder).

Watch this space.

Want to be a part of the Incubator?

To learn more about the incubator, click here. To offer your own ideas about what makes a good incubator, leave a comment below.

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James Tuckerman is one of Australia's most accomplished digital publishers. He's an entrepreneur, angel investor, consultant, coach and public speaker. He is best known for launching Anthill Magazine, in 2003, from the spare bedroom of his parents' home. He was then 26 years of age. In 2004 and 2005, he was named Best Small Publisher in Australia by the ABA (now Publishers Australia). In early 2009, he reinvented the Anthill business model, abandoning its print origins in favour of a 100% digital product. Within six-months, AnthillOnline.com was listed by Nielsen Online Ratings among the Top 50 Business & Finance websites in Australia (http://anthillonline.com/about-us/). Since then, he has launched numerous digital ventures and helped other companies, large and small, make the transition online or helped them significantly improve their online commercial outcomes. To contact James, go to LinkedIn.