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The Challenges and Benefits of Rankings

This Autumn, just as FIFA released their new world rankings that saw Sweden move up from 37th to 36th (we’re way behind Iceland) and QS World University Rankings announced that Massachusetts Institute of Technology had held on to its top spot for the fourth year in a row, UBI Global will similarly release the results of its annual world rankings to reveal the best in class in global incubation.

Upon the release of the world rankings, we will be traveling to each of the regions we benchmark* (Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, Middle East & North Africa, North America) to reveal the individual regional incubator rankings. Before we embark on this world tour, the co-founders, myself (CEO Ali Amin) and Director of Research, Dhruv Bhatli, will be conducting a webinar on UBI’s ranking methodology on September 30th.

*Results for UBI Awards for Africa will be presented during a webinar, with a date still to be confirmed.

But what are the benefits of ranking? And what are their shortcomings?

At UBI Global we have three types of ranking categories:

  1. University Business Incubator
    (university managed or university affiliated)
  2. University Associated Business Incubator
    (university non-affiliation / works closely with university)
  3. University Business Accelerator
    (university managed or university affiliated but runs as an accelerator)

An incubator is ranked depending on its belonging to these category groups, but we benchmark them against all. The difference between ranking and benchmarking is that ranking implies the ordering of the incubation program according to their performance, while benchmarking means the comparison of one particular program taken out of the sample against a point of reference which in this case are top performing incubators.

Theodore Mitchell, president of the Occidental College, once said:

“Rankings are a distortion of an institution’s character and, at worst, a kind of tyrannical tool to get institutions to chase after a single vision of what good higher education is

While there is some weight in this rather ominous statement, one might argue that rankings are in many cases the foundation and outset for encouraging change to any organisation that has been lagging due to it  being stuck in its ways.

Other common grievances associated with ranking include:

  • Encouragement of dishonesty in ratings to “protect” employees or teams
  • Ignore the root causes of average/poor performance
  • Discourages knowledge sharing and coaching. Those who are on top want to stay there and may not help others succeed

We believe the key to identifying the top university business incubators lies in using the right criteria. UBI Global research team together with prominent top thinkers, experts and advisors believe that any such incubator must be measured on three global performance categories*:

  • A, its contribution to the ecosystem
  • B, its value to the startup clients; and
  • C, its attractiveness quotient.

*Also known as Bhatli & Eriksson framework to measure incubator performance (2013)

To achieve this we at UBI Global follow a two-pronged approach to rank and benchmark university business incubators and accelerators.

First, a thorough ranking process that identifies the top performing incubators and second, a benchmark process that stacks incubators against the reference line to identify the strengths, weaknesses and best practices associated with improving the performance of benchmarked incubators.

The offshoot of this approach allows us to do the following:

  • Identify the best in class: The business incubation industry is still in its adolescence and its key players should be celebrated. Distinguishing the incubators that are trailblazing the industry allows us to separate average incubators from top performing incubators and understand why the latter are surpassing their counterparts in terms of such KPI’s as talent retention and post incubation performance.
  • Award innovation: An incubator that takes part in a ranking will find it easier to find investment or funding if they can show they have been ranked in top 20 in the world. Similarly an accelerator who is ranked 55th in the world can you use a ranking to show they are in need of more funding or other resources.
  • Encourage discussion and knowledge sharing: A well-structured and inclusive ranking system will encourage discussion not just in the media but also among those involved with business incubation. We know from experience in dealing with well-established incubators that they are more than willing and happy to reach out and share information and insights with their peers. Moreover we have noticed that top performing incubators are accepting requests to assist in setting up new business incubators in other countries. How do these new incubators know who to ask for assistance? By reviewing the rankings!
  • Encourages competition: Everyone knows competition leads to innovation and the business incubation community is not exempt from this rule. Those ranked in the top 10 will strive year upon year to remain there and will have to constantly push themselves to innovate and fight complacency to protect or better their position, knowing all too well that their counterparts are doing the same.

In an effort to discuss this topic further, on the 30th of the September we held our Ask UBI webinar, where we dissected the approach UBI Global uses to process the data we receive from the incubators taking part in our rankings and benchmarks and lifted the curtain on our methodology.

You can watch webinar below.

Best wishes from Stockholm,

Ali

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