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What is Idea Incubation?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Idea incubation is a process for bringing ideas into reality. It starts on a very fundamental level, often with a single individual who comes up with a concept he or she thinks should be further explored. This individual brings others in on the incubation process, making the idea stronger and more viable. Ultimately, the idea may be turned into a product, assuming that funding can be secured and that the idea is commercially viable.

Many companies foster idea incubation by clustering workers together in collaborative environments. Especially in the case of software companies, employees are actively encouraged to spend work time pondering issues and ways to solve them. Cooperative groups work best for incubation because other members of the group can identify strengths and weaknesses of the idea, resulting in a stronger finished product.

Many startup companies begin with idea incubation in a house or restaurant somewhere. A quick thinking entrepreneur can identify a problem, a solution, and a way to make the solution marketable. Idea incubation may involve a simple problem and an innovative solution, or a complex problem requiring creative effort by several individuals. If the incubation process is successful, an entrepreneur can present a larger company with a concrete concept, resulting in increased funding to develop it.

As the idea becomes stronger, it is introduced to a wider group. This allows incomplete ideas to be more thoroughly fleshed out before being promoted, which means that ideas are less likely to be ignored and allowed to fall through the cracks. It also means that as an idea gains momentum, the growing group of individuals associated with it can contribute to the concept.

Some companies offer their services as professional idea incubators. These companies use a staff of individuals who are trained to think innovatively. Idea incubation firms often provide support for product development all the way through the process from the initial vague concept to commercial production.

To foster idea incubation, an open environment is needed. Rigid corporate environments with set bureaucracies tend to foster less idea development. The free exchange of information, use of conflict as a development tool, and equality between idea incubators allow companies to come up with innovative product concepts. Teams are encouraged to take risks and think outside the box. Smaller companies tend to be more successful idea incubators, due to the more egalitarian and open environment fostered within small companies.

Successful incubation can result in products ranging from clothespins to computers. Ultimately, strong leadership and executive skills are required, along with an entrepreneurial spirit. Once an idea has been incubated, it needs to be developed, prototyped, and commercially presented. Appointing a team leader can encourage this, along with creating a work environment in which all employees are encouraged to make contributions.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a SmartCapitalMind researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Melonlity — On Nov 25, 2014

@Terrificli -- I do agree, but don't most colleges only want a modest percentage of any profits? That kind of arrangement would help the college get something for its investment in exchange for helping a business grow. That seems like an OK arrangement to me.

We don't want colleges out robbing people, but certainly a university is entitled to a little compensation if it helps people who have a great idea but no money build a legitimate company.

By Terrificli — On Nov 24, 2014

@Markerrag -- I have read about some of those so-called technology incubators and have seen there are some complaints about how they function. Specifically, some universities will only allow a company to set up shop and grow in the incubator if it pledges a huge percentage of any profits to the college.

It can be great to have a university's help, but not if the end result is developing a company that will benefit a college more than the people who had the idea that formed the company and the knowledge of how to turn something into a marketable product or service.

By Markerrag — On Nov 24, 2014

@Logicfest -- Some universities have taken that idea farther by offering people with such ideas the chance to form startup companies and use collegiate resources to build their companies.

The goal is to help those companies develop until they are strong enough to go out on their own and grow into businesses that hire a lot of people.

By Logicfest — On Nov 23, 2014

What has been fascinating to watch is how these ideas have become viewed as increasingly valuable and are encouraged by companies and even governments at time.

In my state, there is a government and private partnership through which people who have great ideas that can turn into products are awarded grants and are encouraged to make their ideas a viable reality.

That approach was developed because the notion is that the overall economy is changing and new ideas are needed to develop jobs in the state. Hopefully all of that money and planning will pay off.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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