Many of our graduates lead successful businesses. And many of our current faculty are also hardworking entrepreneurs when they aren’t in our classrooms. That’s why it made so much sense to launch Kendall’s Business Incubator this past fall.
To learn more about how we’re helping a new generation of entrepreneurs launch businesses, I spoke with Rob Watson, the director of our incubator:
Why was it so important for Kendall to start a business incubator for entrepreneurs?
The role of entrepreneurship in the U.S. is a big factor. Small businesses help stimulate the economy. I believe that all colleges have a responsibility to help foster entrepreneurship. With so many entrepreneurial students at Kendall, we feel it is our responsibility to provide the skills, mentorship, capital and preparation they need to help prepare them for entrepreneurship and all it entails. We hope to grow and enhance the entrepreneurial spirit of the students, faculty, staff and alumni by creating an ecosystem in the Chicago small business community.
Incubators are already important at colleges across the country. What makes Kendall’s unique?
The expertise we have in the building! Our program is only for students, alumni, faculty and staff. Most incubators are public facing, but we want to focus on our own talent. We’ve also narrowed our concentration to food, sustainability, and similarly aligned businesses, which makes us unique. Most incubators focus on the sciences, like software or bioengineering. Our incubator will make Kendall a destination for food-focused entrepreneurs.
What about someone who doesn’t want to own a business?
The skillset is no different. You need to understand cash flow, how to manage people and create awareness about your business. Even if you aren’t an entrepreneur, you’re an intrapreneur, which means you still have to understand all the moving parts of the business and how they integrate. We’ll give you those really important skills and help you learn how to build a business from scratch.
Since the incubator was announced, how has our community responded?
I asked people to come to me if they had an idea—and they have been knocking my door down. I had no idea what I was getting myself into! One student wants to create and market a BBQ sauce. The first step is market research. What’s out there now? And what are the prices? You have to look before you leap and understand what makes your product unique. Next, it’s all about understanding your business model and choosing to move forward with your product.
Launching the incubator has also shown me, again and again, the depth of experience we have at Kendall. If you’re considering a food business, no matter what your niche is, we have an expert who can help you get started. Expert coaching is built into our .
Once they have incubated the idea, what happens?
Once the business is fully functional, our partners get involved. Talk about expertise! Our entrepreneurs will be paired with leaders at The Hatchery and FamilyFarmed, so when they are ready to prototype and begin market research, they will have access to those shared services.
After three months of preparation, students go to one of our partners, pitch their ideas, are ideally accepted and then have access to their services. We’ll also emphasize information sharing. The goal is to create a community of entrepreneurs who support one another, share their contacts and resources, and help fuel one another’s ventures. It’s an ecosystem. In the long term, alumni who have gone through this program will return to contribute to the program as speakers and mentors. We have a unique opportunity in Chicago and I look forward to seeing all the fruit this program bears.