The Value of “Virtual Incubators”

An Analogue IncubatorOver at the Intelligent Community Forum, Robert Bell discusses how Internet connectivity is dramatically reducing the need for office space for a whole variety of industries:

[When} our lease is up, we will radically downsize our space.  We hope to turn the mobility that is wasting so much money into an asset instead.  . . . And I find that we are not alone.  According to James Rickman, a blogger on mobile office trends, the number of American workers performing administrative tasks in an office has fallen 12% in just the past two years. . . . John Vivadelli, President & CEO of AgilQuest, a consulting company that helps companies “right-size” their facilities, writes that the most successful mobile workspace solutions can support seven employees with a single desk.

Bell focuses on what this might mean for those tried and true economic development tools, business incubators.  He argues that this trend toward “virtual offices” provides a test for what makes incubators succeed.  If incubators’ primary benefit is simply cheap office space, Bell suggests this trend could cause incubators all over the country to fold.  But he isn’t betting on that.  He argues that incubators create advantages for start ups by providing connections and contacts.  Incubators may be able to use the same  broadband connectivity  underlying the trend toward “virtual offices” to extend their benefits far beyond the physical space they have to offer.

As someone who created a “virtual incubator” at SUNY New Paltz at the dawn of the Internet age, I think he’s got it right.  Even back almost 20 years ago, the most valuable feature of our virtual incubator was its connectivity that enabled a few entrepreneurs to engage customers in such areas a the Research Triangle and ship them their design work over the College’s then-puny portion of a shared T-1 line.  A generation later, this type of connectivity is certainly a key asset for almost any business incubator.