You’ve Hatched – Now What?
A few tips for the journey out of the incubator and into the world.
In recent years, New Orleans has developed multiple incubator resources to help new ideas start down the path to becoming successful businesses. Hundreds of new enterprises have been launched, and in every imaginable field of endeavor.
However, so many steps lie between concept and success, and the incubators, by design, only assist with the first few. So what does a freshly hatched entrepreneur do next?
“You have to focus on the core,” says Kevin Wilkins, founder and managing director of trepwise, an impact consulting firm. “Like a house, you have to build your foundation before you add the second story.”
A veteran of the financial services industry in Boston, which included founding and selling his own business, Wilkins moved south five years ago, when his wife, who is originally from New Orleans, was offered a job at Tulane. Since his arrival, he has taught in the A.B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane and served as entrepreneur-in-residence and then chief operating officer at the Idea Village.
Wilkins was intrigued by the entrepreneurial climate in the region but soon realized there was a void in support services for companies that were beginning to establish themselves, or, as he calls it, “That transition from Post-It notes to online communications.”
“You get to the point where you need a CFO or COO but can’t yet afford it,” Wilkins says. “You’ve launched the business and now you need the processes, systems and more sophisticated expertise in place to support its growth.”
As examples of these systems, Wilkins cited financial models, management systems and structures, brand management, performance management models, accountability structures, and longer-range budgets.
All of this and more take on greater imperative as a new business begins to staff up.
“Hiring your first person is a big commitment,” Wilkins says. “You need the processes, but you also need a value system, an internal culture that will help you manage growth.”
In fact, he says, managing failure can actually be easier than growth – with failure you lick your wounds, learn your lessons, and move on to what’s next. Managing growth and success means staying true to your core vision and principles while adapting to new circumstances (and frequently new pressures).
To that end, Wilkins recommends establishing clear sequencing and priorities, embodied in a system of metrics and triggers.
“As you start to gain traction, you have to move forward, but at the pace that is right for you,” he says. “I’ve seen many companies struggle because they grew too fast.”
Wilkins founded a firm called trepwise two years ago to assist businesses with these transitions; the firm also works with nonprofit organizations that are expanding their reach and services.
“For any client, we try to meet them where they are and go with them to the next level,” he explains. “You are the expert on your company. If we can marry your content with our content, things will go well.”
In a nutshell, says Wilkins, “As companies mature, we help spark that maturity.”
Leaving the collegiality and relative security of the incubator environment can be scary; the risks, challenges and commitments are significantly greater. So too are the rewards. Every successful entrepreneur has to take those next steps, and they are certainly easier to navigate with a roadmap in hand.
Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.