Measuring Incubator Success

Coincident with a spate of interesting blog posts about defining success for oneself (digested today by Thomas Cott), I am traveling to a conference to present some research on measuring the success of arts venture incubators.usasbe conference Specifically, I look at the ways in which several university-based arts venture incubators[1] measure their success as a pilot for a larger study on public, nonprofit, and commercial arts incubators.  If you would like to read my report, it will be published later this year, but I thought I would share some concluding thoughts here:

Most of those interviewed for the study indicated that “encouraging thinking” in a value-based way about the arts is a goal of the program with which they are affiliated. What, then, are the measurable outputs of the entrepreneurial “thinking” encouraged in the academy and in the continuous learning process that follows?   The preliminary business plans that constitute the application to the programs are one such output, as are the new ventures that result.  Is the success and longevity of such ventures evidence that the learning outcome is met? I suggest, instead, that the launch activity itself is adequate evidence of a successful learning outcome.  The venture does not need to succeed per se in order for the learning outcome to be met.  As the Corzo Center director indicated, in an educational setting, failure is a necessary condition.

(For more on failure, see the text of my Tedx talk: Experience Failure for a Change)

UPDATE: For an update on this research, drawn from a cross-case analysis of incubators of different types, see Arts Incubator Evaluation Variables.

[1] The study included the New Venture Challenge at the Eastman School of Music, the Corzo Creative Incubator at University of the Arts , and the Pave Arts Venture Incubator, of which I am the director.

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA and principal/owner of Creative Infrastructure LLC. The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of Cal State LA. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix.
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6 Responses to Measuring Incubator Success

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  5. Very interesting Linda. . . I just posted a longish reply to Diane Ragsdale’s blog on how to measure success regarding my own explorations with language and measurements to assess and communicate the value of those of us who manage places where art is conceived, incubated and created. How do we measure the “success” of the headwaters? Where is our place in the infrastructure of cultural organizations? Our primary “audiences” are serial and in single-digits. How can we meaningfully connect with the “community engagement,” definition/framework as it now stands? (Of course it’s complicated for many artists residencies as most have NO required work product outcomes and the cause/effect relationship to commercial and/or critical success of residents can be a tenuous one).
    Science and sport have figured this out in an organized way with theirs labs and gyms. R & D in the arts is, not unsurprisingly, more serendipitous and spotty. Perhaps residency programs should rename ourselves incubators–at least we’re not “colonies” anymore 😉
    I am hoping you address the role of residencies in your study. A rose by any other name, etc, etc.

    • lindaessig says:

      Thanks for your thoughts on this. I’m just finishing up a community-engaged artist residency and youth performance project for which I serve as evaluation director. I learned much from the experience, not the least of which is that observations and qualitative participant feedback yield far richer results than quantitative measures. It also helped to be part of the process from the very beginning More to follow.

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