As many of you know, I’ve been spending a lovely summer here at Betaworks (despite the fact they are located in NYC). Since I’ve been here, I’ve been thinking about the use of the term “Incubator.” Incubators these day tend to spawn images of Y Combinator and Y Combinator clones. There’s no doubt that these programs are great, but based on my understanding of them and my own experience in Facebook Fund’s REV incubation program, these programs are more about education than launching real companies. I won’t deny that they do launch some great companies, but it seems the vast majority of these companies end up spinning their wheels. Now, just like real summer camps, there is definitely a place for 3-month-long start up camps, but I don’t think we should kid ourselves about whether that is actually the right environment to build a company.
Betaworks, on the other hand, is really building companies. The companies that exist in Betaworks (Chartbeat, Bit.ly, Tweetdeck among them) are not there because they couldn’t exist elsewhere, they’re not there to hang out and be educated. There are no office hours or guest lecturers (okay, there are a few of those), nothing like this. There are a groups of people working, attempting to build companies that create value, and share resources with each other. Betaworks is not just educating these companies on how to be entrepreneurs, they’re taking real professionals and putting them into a new environment. They’re working with these companies day in and day out to really build something.
To me, these are not the same thing at all. The summer-camp-y image of today’s “incubators” really clash with the hard and sustained work that these guys are doing. I would love to see more work in incubating companies in this long-term manner, but to do that, I think we’re going to need a better word to describe what, exactly, is going on here. Betaworks has discussed the term “accelerator” in the past, and I’ve been thinking about the word “green house.” How would you describe this?