Josue speaking with someone at a desk

A New Incubator Model: People First, Business Second

Thema Blog, Business, Connecting People and Places, Entrepreneurship, Talent and Skill Development

A New Incubator Model: People First, Business Second

By Josue Olivares, Executive Director, South Valley Economic Development Center | May 22, 2018


By Josue Olivares, Executive Director, South Valley Economic Development Center | May 22, 2018

“We believe that if an entrepreneur is given enough support, they will overcome their individual challenges. We are here to plant the seeds of belief, and let the entrepreneur decide where to take it from there.” – Josue Olivares

Excited startup owners of all ages and ethnicities come through our doors at the South Valley Economic Development Center every day. They’re working against all odds; they often don’t have the assets, connections or formal education of traditional entrepreneurs. But we see them smiling, learning and believing. We’ve launched a new genre of business incubator, and it’s touching more lives than ever.

Business incubators are an important tool to drive economic development. But our team at the South Valley Economic Development Center realized our incubation program wasn’t reaching the business owners in our community who needed help the most. What about the entrepreneur who has an idea, but no business plan or capital? Or the entrepreneur who has a lifetime of experience, but no formal education?

I was one of those entrepreneurs. I started multiple failed businesses, but despite my inexperience, a family friend offered me a position at his startup. I helped him build the business from the ground up. Within two years, he had 25 employees. That mentorship changed everything. He believed that I could learn, took the time to invest in me and changed my life completely.

Traditionally, in order to apply to an incubator program, a startup is required to have most of the business strategically planned and implemented. In our community research, the South Valley Economic Development Center found most of our potential business owners weren’t that far along. They needed help in the conceptualization phase. They needed mentors and guidance, just like I did.

To answer that need, we created The Virtual Incubator. This program is focused on people first, the business second. Since its inception, the South Valley Economic Development Center has worked to foster economic revitalization in New Mexico, especially in Albuquerque’s South Valley. In order to accomplish this mission we needed to meet more South Valley startups where they are. The Virtual Incubator assesses what skills and knowledge they already have and what they need next, then develops a circuriculm to take at their own pace, on their own time.

This is how it works:

First, we assess the base of knowledge. It’s not important if the participant has a formal education. Maybe their skills come exclusively from experience, or maybe they learned everything from their abuela and bisabeula. We care that they possess the skills and the passion, whether or not they know the technical names for everything. I find many of our participants undervalue their experience and wisdom passed down from their families. This kind of knowledge is equally important and credible.

Next, the participant decides whether to move forward in the process. There is no selection committee, no barriers.

In step two, we test if the business is viable. Participants attend trainings, mentorships and one-on-one consultations. Using this expert advice and market research, the participant analyzes if their business idea will be profitable, if Albuquerque is the right market and if it’s the right timing.

In the Virtual Incubator, we will never say, “This is a bad idea. You shouldn’t pursue this business.” We believe that if an entrepreneur is given enough support, they will overcome their individual challenges. We are here to plant the seeds of belief, and let the entrepreneur decide where to take it from there.

If the business is deemed viable, we move on to step three: working on structure. The program gives guidance on legal framework, marketing strategy, price analysis and more. This stage transitions the entrepreneur toward traditional business incubation. Once they have the groundwork, we can connect them with our commercial kitchen, a seed fund or a tech accelerator.

At its heart, our organization passionately believes that any person given the opportunity and resources can build a better future for themselves and their families. We also understand that the SVEDC will never have all the resources every entrepreneur needs. What we can be is a hub and a connector, so that entrepreneurs can take advantage of programs across the city, and providers can avoid duplicating efforts. We partner with over 30 organizations such as the South Valley Mainstreet, Agricultura Network, Three Sisters Kitchen, ABQid, the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, Community Navigator and many others. We also share our vision, mission and resources with coalitions such as Molino (WESST, Encuentro, SBRC), and La Red (10 South Valley-focused organizations). Through these partnerships we can offer new entrepreneurs even deeper resources and direct pathways to success.

I personally believe that our community’s greatest asset is our people. As long as we continue investing and believing in each other, we can certainly build a thriving community for our future generations.


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