Is your tech business ready for an incubator?

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Monika Radclyffe

Monika Radclyffe, Centre Director of SETsquared Bristol, reflects on what the business incubator looks for when selecting new members, and the questions to ask yourself before you apply.

We’re experiencing exciting times at SETsquared Bristol. We are currently incubating over 80 high-growth potential technology start-ups, from a broad range of sectors, from AI and VR to Agriculture and HealthTech. Many of our members have gone on to achieve significant global success, citing SETsquared membership as providing a real step change in their ability to scale.

What sets us apart, is that we ‘incubate’ companies rather than accelerate. This means we do the slow parts of the journey as well as the fast-moving elements. Our business support is holistic and bespoke, to meet the needs of each individual business.

The journey of a venture through SETsquared Bristol will depend on several factors, including what stage they are at when they join us, the speed they are growing and if they require funding. Our approach is both supportive and challenging, and relies on a commitment from founding teams to engage, and get the most value out of the programme.

Our assessment criteria is suitably tough and robust. Potential ventures need to meet these before membership is offered. If we don’t offer membership, we provide a heap of feedback, and, where possible, will signpost to other support in Bristol’s fantastic start-up eco-system.

One of the questions I get asked most is ‘what do we look for in potential members?’. The answer is several things, and a good place to start before you apply to SETsquared Bristol, is to ask yourself what thought you’ve given to the following:

Are you ready to apply to SETsquared Bristol?

There are typically three stages of growth: investigation, acceleration and commercialisation. Some companies are too early for an incubator, for example if you need another six months of investigation or research then you’re probably too early.

Is technology at the core of my business?

We only accept technology businesses and the tech needs to be at the centre of your business proposition in order to qualify. In other words, it is the tech that will be the reason your business will scale rapidly. Ideally, we want to see a product, which means we don’t give membership purely to consultancies – although we have plenty of consultancies that are pivoting to develop a product. Crucially, we want to understand how your tech gives you competitive advantage. So, have you thought about how your tech is unique and if it is defensible? What is stopping your competitors copying you? What is the business opportunity and market?

To have a viable business opportunity, you need to know what the problem is that you are solving, who has this problem, and how your solutions solve that problem! When we talk to new ventures, we are interested in how big their opportunity really is. Have you worked out how you might get your product to buyers? We call this ‘channel to market’.

Do you have a business model?

This is all about knowing how you might make money from your business idea. We look for business owners who have thought through how their business will generate revenues, and crucially how much profit they might walk away with from sales. Have you considered what it would take to scale your revenue sales?

Have you got your financials covered?

At an early stage with your business idea, you should have made some cash projections and assumptions on Profit and Loss (P&L). However, have you thought about what funding you might require to get off the ground, and to scale in the future?

What’s the make-up of your strategy and team?

It’s never too early to think about your plans for developing product, sales and marketing and how your operations will work. We will ask about the founder team and how they add value, as well as your plans to grow your team. Who are the key hires you will need to get you to the next stage? What type of roles do you need? How will you pay for them?

Have you thought about your exit and personal aspirations?

It might seem strange to think about the end just as you are starting-up but having a view of the different exit routes will influence many aspects of your decision making at earlier stages. Also, you are about to embark on the rollercoaster ride of your life so it’s worth stopping to check what you want from the experience. It can be helpful to ask yourself: where will I be in five years, in relation to my business?

Above all, can SETsquared add value?

We don’t expect you to have every one of these areas covered and polished to apply. We DO expect you to know where the gaps are, and to come prepared to talk about that. The interview is an opportunity for us to find how we can add value to your business.

What if I’m not ready?

We don’t turn away business ideas flat. Several of our most successful SETsquared companies didn’t make the cut the first-time round. What they did do is they went away with the benefit of the advice and feedback they received at interview and came back when they were ready.


Gareth Williams, Founder and Managing Director of YellowDog comments:

“What do they say, that if at first you don’t succeed…? The first time I was interviewed by SETsquared, I was rejected. The feedback I received was immensely helpful and valuable in sharpening our pitch and also sharpening our commercial focus. Having listened and taken the advice on board, just over six months later, I reapplied and was accepted. Now, we are an Alumni member, with over 30 people working at YellowDog and growing fast.”

Think you’re ready to apply? Click here


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