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Incubator Accreditation: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Under increased scrutiny of their impact, Incubators need an accreditation framework to guide their journey of excellence and to give confidence to their stakeholders.
By Ajay Batra

We rely on organizations such as the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) and the Quality Council of India to ensure that an acceptable level of quality is being maintained and delivered in various walks of life. As an illustration, more than five decades ago, the practice of educational accreditation arose in the US to ensure minimum levels of quality in their colleges and universities. In India, NAAC was established in 1994 to do the same. These standards strive to assess the quality of academic programmes and help create a culture of continuous improvement.

With its roots in French, the word accreditation means ‘vouch for’ or ‘confer credit or authority on’. It brings values of trust, quality and transparency with its usage. Accreditation pushes organizations to meet and maintain high standards, in turn, increasing the public’s confidence in their offerings.

World over, young and not-so-young entrepreneurs are developing solutions to the world’s pressing problems in education, health, agriculture, ecology, transportation and other areas.  Concurrently, over the last decade, startup incubation as a concept, and incubators and accelerators as supporting institutions, have gained traction. In India, a growing number (over 300) of academic and private incubators and accelerators (many supported by NITI Aayog’s Atal Innovation Mission and the Department of Science and Technology) are serving as catalysts in the startup movement.

It may be a good time to apply the concept of accreditation to the emerging field of startup incubation. COVID-19 has brought the need for inclusive and high-quality ventures to the foreground. Bringing thousands of new entrepreneurs into the economic mainstream is a national priority, and successful job creation through incubation is the solution. This brings incubators’ operational quality and their startup outcome rates into sharp focus. Unfortunately, incubator successes are rather sporadic and unpredictable with many struggling to attract high-quality founders and team members. Additionally, grant-making organizations are concerned about the low returns of their investments as measured by the job creation and success rates of graduating startups. As public funds become scarce, incubators are being asked to re-evaluate their business models to help them become high-quality organizations that can self-sustain. Transforming incubators into powerful institutions of change is a national priority.