Technology does one thing very well: It makes tasks easier. But because tech is moving ahead so quickly, it’s tough not to get left behind. This is as true for the biggest R&D firm as it is for the small, third-generation family practice.
One way to adapt is by making use of open-source software and freely available data created from a range of sources. For those who aren’t making the software or hardware, a great way to tap this “crowdsource” is to visit a business incubator. These shared workspaces allow companies to pay a small fee each month for access to office space and equipment. While there are typically no plotters, you can find Internet, meeting rooms, printing and a cubicle to call your own. The best part about these places, though, isn’t the advantage of shared overhead. It’s the inspiration and creativity of people launching new businesses—inspiration that can help identify a new market even for a firm that’s been in operation for over 100 years.
Incubators house every kind of business imaginable and more than a few that aren’t. Someone there might see a more profitable use in what they do by seeing what you do, and vice versa. While the biggest advantages of such an environment are likely to be gained by firms who are taking up new technology and practices, like 3D modeling and GIS services, even traditional survey firms may find a GIS company or architecture firm looking for a reliable source of spatial data.
The people who run these enterprises often encourage networking by offering a steady stream of presentations that are usually free even to non-residents and are generally well-attended. Offer to present the services your firm provides, and be sure to bring plenty of business cards or have some way to rapidly share information about who you are.
If making a presentation isn’t an option, try to set up meetings with specific businesses in the incubator. Most incubators have a website that lists the current tenets. These entrepreneurs are some of the most enthusiastic and passionate business people out there. Just talking with them for five minutes is a kind of therapy when every day is filled with wondering where the next job is going to come from or if the next jump in tech will make a principle business practice obsolete.
If you’d like to see what I’m talking about, here is the incubator I work out of. Called Cohab, the organization is based in a beautiful old riverside warehouse. I work there as an extension of my family’s marketing firm, specializing in making marketing data “smart” by putting it into layers and building GIS packages using Esri’s ArcGIS Explorer online tools to give businesses a better understanding of their information. The greatest advantage has been all the people who light up when I tell them what I do as they think of some new and exciting use for my work in a way I had never considered. I am often approached by people who are interested enough in what I do to come find me. It’s a great place to be. I’ll be presenting a marketing GIS seminar on July 18, which I’ll be sure to write about here afterwards.
Have you ever considered using a business incubator as a resource for inspiration and networking? Do you believe this is a viable approach for entrepreneurs and businesses in the geospatial field? Share your comments below.