The Incubator vs. the Parthenon

Economic developers seeking to attract investment to their communities often confront the challenge of competing against larger, better known and better capitalized organizations and agencies that are pursuing many of the same prospects.

It can be humbling and downright demoralizing to find yourself at a trade show or investment forum, setting up your modest booth and arranging your literature and unimposing “swag,” when just two spaces down one of your competitors has set up what appears to be a full-scale replica of the Parthenon complete with yummy treats, glossy magazines, comprehensive DVDs and young, hip representatives wearing the latest fashions.

We can make all kinds of excuses and offer all kinds of explanations as to why the sizzle isn’t really steak, why all that glitters isn’t gold, and why you’d rather spend your money on particular prospects or projects than on erecting a pleasure dome at a convention center … but the fact is, sometimes you just can’t compete, and it shows.

There is some consolation to be had in the fact that many larger FDI prospects engage their own consultants, or deploy their own in-house resources, to find communities that fit the bill. Thus, if you have a good website that contains solid data, if you communicate your strengths well and respond professionally and in a timely fashion to inquiries, you need not be relegated to booth space in the basement of the third annex to the convention center, so to speak.

Nonetheless, owing to the challenges of competing on the big stage, some communities, particularly those with universities, R & D resources and an economic development eco-system that values and supports early-stage firms, have been turning to a different flavor of FDI attraction, namely, that of providing a “soft-landing” to early-stage firms based abroad that are keen to establish a foothold in this country.

The National Business Incubation Association (NBIA) has developed certification criteria for being deemed a recognized “soft-landing site,” and there is value for both the investor and the community in the certification. There are approximately twenty-four certified sites worldwide, with half of these located in the United States.

But with or without the certification, there’s nothing that prevents a community or an incubator from pursuing early-stage firms and welcoming them with a tailored service offering (tax advice, marketing assistance, legal support, translation services, business/cultural training) that can help attract early-stage growth firms to a region.

You don’t need a big budget, or a tradeshow booth the size of the Parthenon, to do so. But you do need a strategy for locating the jewels, i.e., the quality early-stage prospects with potential to grow.  Early-stage firms with growth potential can add jobs, provide niche talent, contribute to the technology community, and add to the overall international eco-system of a community.

For those in Maine (or environs) on October 2, 2013, an international business forum is taking place at which soft-landings, as well as other international trade essentials, will be a part of the discussion. Click here for more info or to register.

And stay tuned for details and future posts regarding soft-landing sites that have made a difference.