Three reasons startups fuel any innovation ecosystem

A guest post by Tala Al Ansari, Director of District 2020‘s Innovation Ecosystem and supporting partner to the Triumph of Innovation impact study and report.

Startups are often referred to as the lifeblood of an economy, being representative of the kind of bold thinking, innovation, and rapid deployment that are so important in a world that moves at a ferocious speed. It’s clear then why it’s a priority among many nations to invest in budding enterprises and create an environment that is so fertile for their growth.

The UAE is among them. Earlier in November 2021, the nation’s Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs, Ahmad al-Falasi, stated the UAE’s goal to become home to 20 ‘unicorns’ by 2031 — startups that are worth more than $1 billion. This ambition to create an environment ideal for growth is shared by my team at District 2020, the human-centric future city set to evolve from EXPO 2020 into a mixed-used community and an innovation ecosystem that supports people and businesses to thrive.

Startups are fundamental to our vision for a city that is designed to help unlock this potential. It’s the reason why we’ve launched a dedicated global entrepreneurship program, called Scale2Dubai, where we will bring start-ups and small businesses together with Fortune 500 companies, academia & citizens to collaborate and co-create.

But just why are startups so fundamental to a nation’s growth and prosperity? And why, by extension, are they so important to innovation ecosystems like District 2020, and the larger enterprises within them? Here are three reasons for starters.


1.) They encourage a culture of experimentation and bravery

It’s natural, and entirely deliberate, that startup employees are entrepreneurial. They’re expected to take on a border set of responsibilities, being part of a smaller team of multitaskers that needs to pull together to support one another. This same family-like environment also encourages a culture of experimentation and bravery both within the organization and also outside of it, because what startups lack in personnel numbers they need to make up for in creativity and disruptive ideas. That can only come from a culture where fresh thinking is a necessity and people aren’t afraid to be bold.


2.) They’re problem solvers

Related to the need to experiment and be brave, startups are also built to be problem solvers. Disruption is a key word here. What most often separates small businesses from large, well-established corporations is the foundation of their business model, which is typically disruptive in nature. So many startups were born in garages and spare bedrooms because the founder identified a problem that needed to be solved in an industry. That’s a powerful strength to have not only at a company’s founding but as part of an innovation ecosystem and when in a partnership. This instinct to solve problems is why many large businesses actively seek out partnerships with startups, bringing them in as something of an innovation partner. And, this tactic is something we at District 2020 will actively encourage and enable. We’re creating a multi-stakeholder platform that brings together diverse stakeholders (incubators, accelerators, government, academia, large and small entities) with the aim of facilitating collaboration, co-creation and advancing competitiveness.


3.) Their speed accelerates wider change

Finally, startups bring such value to an innovation ecosystem, when working in close proximity and collaboration with larger companies, and out in the wider economy because of their agility in implementing new ideas. A large part of the reason why comes down to competitive pressures, as larger businesses know they must keep up with their smaller peers when they present something new to the market. Similarly, innovation quickly becomes the norm as market players adapt their own offering to steal back market share from those who were brave enough to skirt convention and do something different.


The UAE’s startup ecosystem is thriving

The UAE ranks 9th in the 2021 World Competitive Ranking, surpassing USA, UK, Germany & China! This is due to our ease of doing business, great tax policy; connectivity & business legislation.

We’re eager to see all of the above in play once the doors open to District 2020 in October 2022; just a few months after the close of EXPO 2020. As mentioned above, Scale2Dubai aims to directly support the UAE’s already thriving startup ecosystem. The program was developed through a design-thinking approach, where we looked at the challenges facing start-ups and identified the need to help them during the most critical stage of scaling.

Therefore, Scale2Dubai is purposefully designed to give start-ups and small businesses a soft landing in Dubai, using District 2020 as a launchpad to grow and gain access to new markets. Each year, the equity-free program is expected to support between 80 – 100 of these businesses, with the first group being selected during March 2022; the final month of Expo 2020 Dubai.

Members of this equity-free program will have access to two years of free working space, two years of subsidized living, a two-year visa, business set-up support, access to special rates from service providers, and links to a calendar of social and networking events. This support includes access to deal flow, funds, talent and services. Previously, start-ups would have to work tirelessly to access all of this and partners; they now get to embrace this as a part of the innovation ecosystem at District2020.

With all the different investors, partners, and visitors that EXPO 2020 is attracting, the program will carry forward the EXPO spirit of global collaboration. Much more is sure to come from the UAE’s community of startups, which shined during the pandemic for its creativity and sense of community in overcoming the challenges of such unprecedented times.

Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives; it is the one most adaptable to change”. A lot can be learned from the success of UAE-based startups during the pandemic, and that’s why on 8 December 2021, District 2020 is proud to join our partner, UBI Global, at EXPO 2020 to reveal the findings of the Triumph of Innovation report; and to play a role in cultivating connections that will build bridges between innovation ecosystems and players to support future growth.

The report will showcase just how the world’s top business incubators, accelerators and corporate innovation teams solved challenges and redefined best practices. The session will be packed with insight and lessons; be a part of it by registering here today!

Save the Unicorns! – The new innovation initiative from UBI Global and how to get involved!

There has never been a more seismic shift for the innovation community than the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Startups and the business incubators and accelerators nurturing them have experienced some huge unforeseen challenges. Corporations have had to pivot resources and personnel away from innovation and focus on survival. The new innovation initiative from UBI Global, called Save the Unicorns, is the meaningful collaboration the world needs now, and here is how to get involved.

What is a ‘unicorn’? Learn this and another innovation lingo with this free download, The Innovation Landscape from A to Z Glossary of Terms and Concepts!


What is #savetheunicorns?

Save the Unicorns is a startup initiative from UBI Global with the goal of keeping innovation efforts alive around the world. Our approach is two dimensional. One, to connect the innovation community with innovation-hungry corporate partners and, two, to communicate new technologies that startups need to thrive and become unicorns as they rise to the challenge of innovating through COVID-19.

Based on a tiered fee system, Save the Unicorns is a budget-friendly, low commitment way to quickly and effectively reach a targeted market of business incubation programs, startup accelerators, and unicorns on the brink of success. When you sign up as a  #savetheunicorns-partner, UBI Global will:

The UBI Global team does all the creation and promotion, while all of the startup information is driven directly to your corporate innovation team so that you can begin collaborating immediately. Test the waters with a short but sweet one-month partnership or go full-on unicorn with three months of promotion. Save the Unicorns is about driving the innovation intelligence community to your team for a mutually beneficial impact.
Why Save the Unicorns?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a large impact on startups, no matter the industry, and no matter the maturity level. Some of the best, most promising innovation is in danger of dying on the vine. At the same moment, corporations need to re-focus their innovation efforts to address a multitude of new challenges presented by the WFH culture shift, supply chain failures, and travel disruption just to name a few.

The positive activity within the UBI Global community throughout the pandemic has truly been inspiring. Our innovation intelligence community members have been even more active, and our membership has grown. The focus has shifted from benchmarking and best-practice sharing to seeking new ways to catalyze startup activity. Whether seeking venture capital or sourcing a new CRM system, business incubators and accelerators are still focused on moving forward and creating more unicorns.

This is what our community research tells us about innovation right now:

Who are the players in the global innovation intelligence community? Discover the Top Listed and Number One business incubators and accelerators in the world with the World Benchmark Study 2019 – 2020 Rankings Report!


Who can #savetheunicorns?


The UBI Global community includes over 1,200 business incubators and accelerators located all over the world, with access to 100,000 startups and growing. The Save the Unicorns initiative from UBI Global is for corporate innovation seekers and venture capital investors. Current #savetheunicorns partners that are interacting in our unicorn-rich community include the following industries:

…and more!

Save the Unicorns is the right initiative to:


I want to #savetheunicorns!

Get started today as a UBI Global Save the Unicorns partner with no long-term commitment or membership required. Save the Unicorns is a pure active engagement with our global innovation community including the most exciting innovation on the planet!

Are you ready to Save the Unicorns? Get in touch with Campaign Manager, Sebastian Thomas for a free 30-minute personal assessment. Read more and join the campaign to #savetheunicorns here:

This is a time of unprecedented uncertainty; in the most dramatic and swift manner, a pandemic of as yet unknown proportion has changed the day-to-day lives of a sizeable proportion of the world’s population and wrought significant and perhaps lasting economic damage. The human toll, of course, eclipses such concerns, though it is still perhaps valuable to consider the consequences of COVID-19 on startup ecosystems globally and the ventures that reside there.

Startups are an essential part of the economic fabric of many nations, helping secure their future prosperity, and bearing multipliers – particularly in high-tech industries – that can exceed those of more established enterprises. The prolific increase in resources devoted to startup ecosystem development over the last several years indicates that governments now recognize the importance of targeting startups, and will hopefully take appropriate actions to ameliorate the worst of COVID-19’s economic effects. Though, if they do not, it may be up to founders and their champions to take decisive action and give them their best shot of survival.

Short-term consequences

In the short-run, many startups are likely to be concerned – primarily – with ensuring the safety and good health of their employees, whilst maintaining their operational capacity. Added to these concerns may be difficulties on both the demand and supply sides, with sharp contractions in consumer demand prevalent in many industries, and supply chains also coming under strain, if not breaking entirely. For those ventures not yet able to walk on their own, stock market losses and other COVID-19-related fears may prompt current backers and potential VC funding to dry up, leaving promising startups with potentially critical short- or medium-term liquidity woes.

Medium-to-long-term consequences

Though we are perhaps not yet far enough along the curve of this crisis to accurately discern its likely medium-to-long-run effects, even the most optimistic models of numerous respected institutions, including the WTO, are forecasting sharp falls in consumer and business spending that – in the medium-term – will result in a global recession and, perhaps – in the long-term, under a prolonged epidemic – a historic slump that could surpass the global financial crisis of 2008–09 and approach or eclipse the great depression. In such an event, startups that have survived the short-term effects of COVID-19 may be subjected to a more protracted malaise and contraction in consumer demand that could prove critical to startup prospects.

Sustained distress in the financial system and declining asset prices are likely to result in significant contractions in VC funding volumes, even if a full-scale banking crisis is averted because of strong bank capitalization and the macroprudential policy. A downward spiral, unabated by fiscal and monetary intervention could prove terminal to many startups that, in more ordinary times, may eventually have thrived.

Irrespective of the eventual gravity of this crisis, it will have short- and long-run consequences that entrepreneurs will be forced to navigate in order to ensure the continued survival and eventual success of their startups. There are some actions, both near-term and long-, that may give burgeoning startups the best chance of survival.

Maintain capacity

Firstly, maintaining operational capacity is important. It does not mean that things must be kept running at full capacity, particularly in the context of deficiencies in demand, rather than the core, critical functions of the firm must remain efficient and as close as possible to full-productivity. Identifying and targeting these areas, and preparing a plan to keep colleagues working remotely motivated, productive, and – crucially – in good spirits, is essential. Preparing or directing colleagues towards effective remote working tools and guides can help on the productivity front, whilst constant, calm, and high-spirited communication can help to instill a sense of confidence and aid morale. It will leave the firm better-able to respond to the challenges that will arise, quickly and decisively.

Revise plans and the numbers

Hoping for the best is not an option. Creating a credible plan that allows for the survival of the firm with minimal external funding and, if plausible, without external funding may be the key to the survival of many startups. This will require an intensive appraisal of the firm’s exposure and areas of vulnerability. Revising projected revenues and costs based on likely and worst-case scenarios will help prepare for what may be to come, and indicate which difficult choices might have to be made.

This may point, for many, to a need to diversify revenue streams. Even if this seems, on first thought impossible, deep and concerted thought must be given to ways in which current competencies can be adapted to capture future returns. Even if these plans remain thus for the foreseeable future, having at least an idea or two of what and, crucially, how different revenue streams can practically be made flow makes for sound risk management. On the supply side, considering or potentially securing supply-chain alternatives – particularly domestic ones – may be wise for some firms.

However this reappraisal takes shape, what is required now is that founders face the possibility of a graver and more protracted downturn and take actions now that they may find themselves less able to make in the future.

Securing funding

A difficult task in the best of times, securing funding in such times as these might seem a herculean one. That said, after a period of seemingly interminable pessimism and bad news, people will become accustomed to the new normal and invest. Being prepared to take advantage of these opportunities by being able to demonstrate that one’s company is robust or ¬– ideally – bears antifragility, may be key. Irrespective of the extent of the coming economic malaise, it will still be a good environment for good founders. By taking many of the aforementioned steps and minimizing reliance on external funding, conversely, startups can find themselves a more attractive proposition for VC’s dry powder later.

Government funds and other private grants may also be a valuable option to explore for funding, particularly for those in sectors that directly address health and wellness, but also those in other sectors viewed to be ‘favorably’ affected by market conditions. Foundations may also be a more speedy source of capital than equity investments. The key thing in the long-term is not giving up entirely on securing funding in the downturn.

Communication is key

As ever, good open communication can be a fundamental component of navigating this crisis successfully in the long run. Confident and transparent communication with employees, investors, and those to whom one turns for advice are wise. Keeping key stakeholders abreast of developments and part of the process can give comfort to all concerned with the company’s survival, and also help generate solutions to complex problems.

Whatever the eventual breadth of this crisis, it is important to stay hopeful. Many great companies have emerged from recessions of bear markets. With the right decision-making and a dose of good fortune, founders can make theirs the success stories of the future.

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN – UBI Global opens the 5th iteration of its gold standard, international study of performance and impact by business incubators and accelerators. The World Benchmark Study 2019 – 2020 is sponsored this round by Qatar Development Bank (QDB), an innovation-focused economic development institution.

Since 2013, the UBI Global World Benchmark has evaluated more than 600 business incubators and accelerators, uncovering best practices and helping programs improve and become more competitive. UBI Global has built an extensive community across more than 90 countries and releases unique world rankings of top-performing incubation and acceleration programs.

“We work tirelessly towards supporting innovation worldwide. We found the same passion in Qatar Development Bank and are proud to partner with them towards that goal”, says Ali Amin, CEO, and co-founder of UBI Global.

UBI Global is a thought leader in the innovation space touting its insights and relationship-based approach to “Activate Your Innovation”. Previously, UBI Global partnered with Cisco (The World Benchmark Study 2017 – 2018). Results and rankings are traditionally presented at an international conference called the World Incubation Summit. In 2019, the conference will be held in Doha, Qatar as part of the sponsorship by QDB.

“At UBI Global, we map, assess, and promote incubators and accelerators worldwide. Our World Benchmark Study is an integral part of our efforts to connect these organizations with peer programs, startups, corporations, and innovation agencies. With the WBS, we provide all stakeholders in the global innovation ecosystem actionable insights into the state, best practices, challenges, and opportunities of the global incubation and acceleration industry,” says Holger Meyer, Head of Research at UBI Global.


About UBI Global

UBI Global is an innovation intelligence company and community, founded in 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden to identify where innovation hubs were located worldwide and to learn and share what makes them successful. It conducts the World Benchmark Study biennially for business incubators and accelerators and helps programs with assessment, best practices, and recognition. UBI Global engages its interactive learning community with international events, competitions, and awards, as well as a suite of education materials, original research, and management tools. Members worldwide collaborate and exchange information through the UBI Connect engagement platform. To further its impact, UBI Global links corporations and governments to innovation hubs and their startups to uncover business opportunities for economic development. The vetted network consists of over 1200 incubation and acceleration programs, that are linked to universities or are privately-, publicly-, or corporate run. These members represent 20,000+ startups and are located in 90 countries and counting.

Previous results from UBI Global’s studies have been featured on BBC Radio, The Chicago Tribune, Le Figaro, Der Standard, The Huffington Post, The Irish Times, France 3, and other media.

For more information, please contact:
Samara H. Johansson, Head of Communications
[email protected]

UBI Global
Kungsgatan 60, 111 22 Stockholm, Sweden
E: [email protected], W:

UBI Global Appoints Head of Communications

Global Pioneer in Business Incubation Insight with Worldwide Innovation Community Strengthens Resources

Stockholm, Sweden – UBI Global ( announced today that Samara H. Johansson has joined the company as Head of Communications to further develop their global brand and drive growth in membership, corporate sponsorships, and international events. Samara comes with a wealth of experience, having spent the past fifteen years in various roles within both marketing communications and marketing research and in a variety of industries both in the U.S. and Sweden. She has led projects and implemented expansion strategies at esteemed corporations such as digital research firm Harris Interactive, in health and financial services at MetLife and Guardian, and most recently in HR technology at Benify. Additionally, Samara has co-founded and runs a membership organization, numbering 2,000 people, based in Stockholm which assists educated immigrants in entering the Swedish labor market.

With an MBA in marketing from Boston University and a series of diplomas and certificates in social media and digital communications, Samara is applying both her education and leadership experience to helping UBI Global succeed in its next phase of international growth, both online and off.

Samara H. Johansson joins as Head of Communications to continue UBI Global’s recent expansion to enable innovation through impactful collaborations worldwide. This includes growing the reach and services for its interactive learning community and uncovering business opportunities to match corporations and governments with innovative incubators and their 20,000+ startups. In 2019, the company will be heading to Qatar to arrange an global conference with corporate partners called the World Incubation Summit; reveal the World Benchmark Study results, and announce top-performers of its global rankings of business incubators and accelerators.

Samara comments “I am pleased to join the leadership team at UBI Global and to grow the marketing and communications function so that the company can be better positioned for its next stage of growth. The company makes a significant impact already by connecting the innovation ecosystem actors worldwide with each other, something no other company can say. And by introducing them to multinationals searching for new ideas and investment opportunities, UBI Global affects the fate of these programs– and the startups they foster– both in developed and developing regions in the world. I look forward to working within the dynamic field of global innovation and with a team that is as international as the members and clients it serves.”

Ali Amin, CEO of UBI Global said:

“Samara is an outstanding addition to the team and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience. We view Samara’s appointment as a key signing in providing and implementing a clear, crisp and inspiring communication voice throughout all of our world activities. We are more than excited to have her on the leadership team and we feel very fortunate that we were able to find someone of Samara’s caliber to fulfill this role“


About UBI Global

UBI Global is an innovation intelligence company and community, founded in 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden to identify where innovation hubs are located worldwide and to learn and share what makes them successful. It conducts the World Benchmark Study biennially for business incubators and accelerators and helps programs with assessment, best practices, and recognition. The resulting research from the studies has been featured on BBC Radio, Chicago Tribune, Le Figaro, Der Standard, Huffington Post, Irish Times, France 3, and other media outlets.

UBI Global engages its interactive learning community with international events, competitions, and awards, as well as a suite of education materials, original research, and management tools. Members worldwide collaborate and exchange information through the UBI Connect communication platform. To further its impact, UBI Global links corporations and governments to innovation hubs and their startups to uncover business opportunities for economic development. The vetted network consists of 1200 incubation programs, with the majority linked to universities and other centers of excellence. These members represent 20,000+ startups and are located in 90 countries and counting.


The Corporate Challenge: How to gain and maintain competitive advantage?

Our 2018 Year in Review looks back at the innovation landscape with a focus on corporations. After all, what types of innovation these players want; where they invest their resources; and what they ultimately bring to market, influences activities by business incubators and accelerators—and their startups. It’s a feedback loop that some would argue begins with corporations’ business strategies and their ever-present need for competitive advantage.

At the start of the year, UBI Global surveyed 78 multinational corporations across industries, each operating in at least ten countries and each describing themselves as “innovation-ready”. We wanted to discover what their biggest needs were in 2018 and what their attitudes were related to the greater global innovation landscape.

The survey results revealed what these leaders believed their corporations should focus on – and how innovation could be sourced and applied. We confirmed that their feedback does tie into the activities and focus areas of incubation programs and startups operating internationally today. We saw that clearly there are opportunities for nimble startups and established corporations to meet and work together. In fact, we saw that throughout 2018, incubators, accelerators, and their startups have already been actively participating and contributing to corporations’ “hot” areas of interest.  

What Corporations Want

In 78 in depth interviews with corporations conducted over the past year, UBI Global has learned that almost 30 percent of companies look to innovation to solve problems in the following areas:

Nearly a quarter of corporations listed strategic direction (including transformation of the business framework) as a top focus. Remaining competitive and offering their customers more value, are deep concerns for corporations with this focus. After all, they strive to grow and outpace their market peers.

The survey also revealed that maintaining a continuous pipeline to market (22%), staying on top of the industry (14%), boosting their own in-house accelerators (9%), and finding new clients (5%), were among other areas of focus.

The big picture looks like this:

2018 Year in Review: The Global Innovation Landscape –  of and by Corporations

#1 Innovation for Problem Solving

Problem solving is top of mind for corporations when considering applications for innovation (27%). However, at its core, problem solving is a reactive approach that seeks to fix shortcomings or failures. Corporations often focus on what is wrong with current products and services— or even operations. In contrast, by being proactive about challenges they face, corporations have a better opportunity to source and apply innovative products and methods. They can collaborate and partner with innovators at business incubators, for example.

One way companies have been proactively problem-solving in 2018 is by focusing on data. In specific: what it is and how to use it for predictive modeling. Zeroing in on “big data” and how manipulating information can solve problems, has been a key area in which corporations have collaborated with incubation programs and their startups.

“Demand for big data technologies is expected to generate $210 billion in revenue by 2020 and that industry growth is spurring a steady stream of startups developing innovative big data products,” according to CRN.

Data analysis and new ways to uncover patterns of behavior is what big data promises. It has been applied, with the help of startups presenting new approaches, to improve customer retention, new product development, and even attraction and retention of a company’s own employees.

#2 Innovation to Bolster Strategic Direction

Next comes “strategic direction” as preoccupying corporate minds (23%). Typically, corporations establish an internal structure that clearly defines the vision of the company and its brand(s) and the role of each department and employee in supporting it. Open communication of goals and a transparent structure are key to achieving set strategies. But how does one look to innovation to help with this business practice? And would a company easily recognize a start up’s market offering as a potential solution to its strategic woes?  

The answer is to develop an innovation strategy or an innovation mindset when setting and evaluating current business strategies. And though startups do not necessarily help a company communicate its current strategy, they can offer different services and products that could perhaps compliment or bolster a company’s current offering. Adding, replacing, or improving an offering can be seen as “bolstering strategic direction”. The innovation landscape is filled with startups capable of helping corporations and their current strategies; in general, the corporation needs to consider innovation-for-strategy as a way of thinking:

  1. An innovation strategy needs to be truly inspiring and should describe a desirable future state for the company.
  2. The innovation strategy needs to be ambitious in terms of providing the basis to break away from the competition, beat the competition, and create new spaces.
  3. The process of developing the strategy needs to be open.
  4. An innovation strategy must also be specific to the time in which it is developed, as it is grounded in the reality of a company’s environment, and it reflects the available capabilities, technologies and gaps that may need to be filled.
  5. An innovation strategy needs to be adaptive and to evolve over time, i.e. incorporate learning, allow adjustments to the desired course and maybe even allow an organization to cut its losses if required.

#3 Innovation by Startups and at Incubators to Feed a Product Pipeline

Corporations are ever-concerned about keeping their offers fresh and in synch with— and even a step ahead of— consumer demands. From our survey, 2 of every 10 multinational corporations (22%) state that sourcing new products and improvements on current ones is why they would seek outside help (from incubators and startups). Called, “continuous pipeline strategy”, it is a straightforward, repeatable deployment process with a goal of providing delivery of new or improved products to the customer. With this approach, corporations employ short cycles. At any stage, the product or service can be released and experience success in the market.

As expected, reliance upon startup incubation is heavy for this approach. Corporations have begun to form delivery teams, with development, operations, and testing departments working together with startups as a unit to shorten the release cycle for innovative, exciting products. The benefits of continuous pipelines include:

In fact, it is well-known that startups have a key hand to play in helping corporations “pivot”.

Pivot is a lean start-up term that refers to the concept of introducing a product, understanding how customers react to the offering and then changing the offering to better align with the customer needs based on the learning from the product introduction. Lean has introduced the idea of a Minimally Viable Product (MVP) to our lexicon.”

Examples of how corporations turn to startups to feed their product pipeline and more easily pivot are found here.

What About Supporting In-House Accelerators?

One of the least mentioned areas of interest among the multinational corporations we spoke to is a focus to boost their own accelerators, or home-grown centers of innovation. This is likely because not many corporations have a separate incubator associated with their Research and Development or innovation-centered activities. This makes sense from what we have been seeing in 2018. As we have noted, even in our own community of incubation programs, there has been a spike in collaborations between corporations and startups.

It’s called “corporate venturing”. The term describes established firms that collaborate with startups (whether through corporate venture capital, scouting missions, hackathons or “excubators”) as a way to source new ideas and expand their own offerings. According to Forbes, large companies such as Intel, Siemens, Xerox, GE, IBM, Lucent and Merck have been corporate venturing for years:

“Between 2010 and 2016 in fact, the use of corporate incubators and corporate accelerators among the 30 world largest companies in the world rose from just 2% to 44%.”

The Incubation Connection

The needs and requirements outlined by multinationals in UBI Global’s survey echo the activities within the incubation ecosystem. Throughout the Best Practices and World Benchmark reports, university-linked incubation programs have demonstrated that their goals and objectives are in line with what corporations need in order to innovate in their sector.

It makes sense for corporations to turn to startups and incubation programs that guide them. It’s a great match, according to Forbes:

“Large corporations are like big, slow ocean liners: difficult to steer when it comes to innovation at the pace the market requires. Standardized processes, bureaucratic management, risk aversion and lack of creativity are some of the reasons for this. In contrast, start-ups desire to challenge the status quo, have potential for rapid growth and the capacity for a continuous flow of new ideas.”

UBI Global offers a strategic way to connect to the incubation community worldwide for both corporations and the incubation programs guiding the next generation of startups. Corporations can learn how to efficiently collaborate with exciting programs and their startups. Incubation programs can better connect with insightful information and each other through our UBI Connect platform. Our own “year in review” looks like this:

UBI Global 2018 Year in Review: Innovation Community, Events, Research


What do serious professionals in the innovation landscape really need?

Social networking and communication platforms are a dime a dozen these days, right? Most everyone belongs to at least one, and most people are only somewhat active, posting- or reacting to others’ posts- occasionally. And despite invitation-only contact lists and “friending”, it seems one is still bombarded with unwelcome guests (advertisers). Perhaps the level of user inactivity (or boredom) is because of a lack of relevant content?

We considered the average experience within the online communication space and then asked ourselves: what do serious professionals in the global innovation landscape need? What’s currently available to just them to really help them get better at what they do? What kind of content would be most useful- and interesting?

Get ready to Activate Your Innovation with UBI Connect

The product of our brainstorming and countless rounds of input from business incubators and accelerators is now being launched. Meet UBI Connect – The Global Engagement Platform for Innovation Hubs.

We designed it to be the only online platform of its kind, designed specifically to support and enable the global incubation ecosystem to be effective and successful in fostering and launching their startups. UBI Connect is now available to UBI Global Members, and we are proud to say that, although it is a work in progress (we never stop taking input from our community!) it is set to become not just an online place to communicate (or simply react to posts) but the place to engage with your peers in the worldwide innovation ecosystem. Members will be able to share, receive- and enjoy content- that is interesting, relevant, and ad-free.

UBI Global members will be able to collaborate, get smarter, and share best practices. Through the platform, we will offer news, insights, and event updates, as well as program-specific, secure transfer of personalized information- such as program rankings and benchmarking information.

UBI Connect embodies everything powerful about being a UBI Global Member. Not only will incubation programs have access to peers and their advice but will be able to reciprocate by becoming contributors, thus sharing their own best practices. Users will also be able to search UBI Connect for peer-level programs to emulate, plus top-ranked programs to contact directly for introductions and advice.

In short: UBI Connect will cut through the noise found on the average social network and get down to what really matters: innovation and all the interesting conversations about how to support it, from members of your own community around the world!

Connections matter- and that’s why we built UBI Connect

From the start, UBI Global recognized the importance of connecting and networking with peers. We saw a clear need to be better able (and more easily!) share, promote, and motivate one another within the worldwide incubation ecosystem. This is what we heard from program after program; that geographical distances had become a hindrance to developing connections. So within the UBI Connect engagement platform, members will be able to connect with one another digitally- of course.

They will also be able to engage with each other and with useful information from each other. This includes original research and insights from UBI Global (including the World Benchmark Study and the Best Practices and Startup Success Stories Reports). The information contained in these original reports has inspired other programs to increase their own value to their ecosystem, by improving services to their client startups and to their university partners and other stakeholders. We saw that sharing information- and learning- is a key way to connect, too.

In sum: UBI Connect embodies the five biggest benefits of connecting with your peers in the incubation community, which are:

1. Peer Advice – Tap into knowledge not otherwise accessible from the innovation community at large. Getting to know the best performing incubators and accelerators means gaining their advice and learning their approaches. This practical information from fellow professionals supports initiatives for improvement, growth, and sustainability.

2. Business Opportunities – You never know what opportunities are around the next corner.  Becoming visible and heard in the global ecosystem, is an easy way to meet peers and uncover chances for impactful collaborations. Meeting in real life becomes targeted and effective, after establishing a connection online first.

3. Friendship – Like-minded innovators exchanging information and experiences within the UBI Connect platform will encourage each other, meet regularly at events such as the World Incubation Summit, and form a strong bond of friendship and support. Surrounding yourself with positive people, after all, encourages one to grow and thrive.

4. Personal Growth – Regularly sharing knowledge and useful information makes one smarter and increases one’s reputation as a thought leader. Relationships developed thanks to UBI Connect can further careers, too. Missed opportunities to improve, operate more effectively, or learn of useful coaching will no longer be a bother.  

5. New Ideas – Perhaps the most obvious benefit of becoming active in UBI Connect, is being able to connect with peers in the same community and build relationships. From these connections and the trust they are built upon, come new ideas and opportunities for growth- unrestricted by borders or geographies.

Great functionality, and more

UBI Connect offers an easy to navigate menu that is both intuitive and smart. Sharing ideas and posting thoughts on UBI Connect is easy through the Live Feed area of the platform. For longer discussions, there is a Forum section with categorized topics. The Forum is where we would like member feedback and thoughts about the platform. Separate sections for News and Events are used to inform users of the exciting activities that programs are participating in all over the world. Finally, the Incubators & Accelerators, People and Companies areas of the platforms are where users can find important networking contacts, post new ideas and best practices, and share useful solutions.

Exclusively for members, by members

UBI Connect is the only platform of its kind for the innovation community, designed to meet requirements and overcome challenges faced by incubators and accelerators alike. Unlike other B2B or social networks, UBI Connect will not allow advertisements or targeted communications from outsiders but instead focus on offering access to relevant, interesting information. UBI Connect will be populated with information and insights from UBI Global and senior level influencers and decision makers in the world of innovation.

The engagement platform offers a strategic, focused way to interact in the wider community on a new level. Discussions with peers are more productive because everyone is on the same page, with deliberate connections and potential contacts that evolve into long-term partnerships. UBI Connect will build genuine authenticity with its forum discussions and provide value for the members

See and be seen, as they say!

Because UBI Connect is exclusive to the incubation community and accessible only by UBI Global members, including incubator and accelerator programs, universities and soon, corporate partners, it becomes the place to see and be seen. All the news and updates are completely tailored to incubation professionals, and conversations and interactions create a hive buzzing with ideas. Ultimately, it is not about whom you know, but rather who knows you that can lead to future opportunities for both parties in terms of advice, motivation, and innovation. For those of you who are too busy or have too many budget constraints to attend live networking events, UBI Connect brings the network and all its benefits right to you.

Members of UBI Global can make the most out of the UBI Connect experience by following these four rules of networking:

  1. Be authentic and be yourself
  2. Listen and be curious about others
  3. Make an effort to stay in touch on the platform
  4. Share useful information and be someone the community can count on

Remember: participation fuels innovation

Networking on a global scale has its own challenges, and building the perfect platform takes some time- which is why we are inviting our members to create their profiles now, while UBI Connect is still in the beta test stage. Members can create their profiles with the login details sent by the UBI Connect system. Each can populate his or her profile with all the important information about the organization, its leadership, and the startups supported. Just like in other social media platforms, the more detailed the user profile, the more easily understood one becomes- and in one’s own voice. Members: This is your chance to share your success stories, list your projects, and more!

After profiles are completed, we invite members to explore UBI Connect and give us feedback through the Feedback Forum section. Feedback is vital to us so that we can finetune and refine the direction of the platform. We want the UBI Global members using the platform to have an experience as impactful as the platform itself! Our goal is to spark collaborations, spread relevant information, highlight successes, and foster relationships. But before we launch the final version in January, we welcome member comments and suggestions to ensure we did not miss any ideas or desired functionalities. Innovation takes a village!

Not yet a UBI Global member? It’s easy to apply.

If you are not already a UBI Global member, it is not too late to apply to join your peers in over 1200 incubation programs in more than 90 countries. With membership, you will be able to access opportunities for impactful collaborations, and these are certainly captured in UBI Connect. Other exciting opportunities to activate your innovation through membership include UBI Global’s World Benchmark Study, the World Incubation Summit, and even the World Startup Challenge. Learn how we can support your program through membership within the UBI Global interactive learning community.


Anyone doing business today knows that the rules change regularly, making it difficult to keep up with the latest trends. Startups in particular keep turning their heads to follow the next great opportunity. When working with startups, keep in mind the words of Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn founder and investor in all things tech, who said, “Starting a company is like throwing yourself off the cliff and assembling the airplane on the way down.”

The need for startups to keep changing and adapting with the market is familiar to most corporations, because they do it themselves. However, there is a difference between being a gatekeeper, who allows only certain ideas to come to life, and a communicator, who establishes a relationship with the crowd to form a picture of the path to success. This article is about the new ways big corporations are evolving their R&D processes to embrace innovation and what that means for startups and their incubation programs.

What is Crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing can be summed up in three words; distributed problem solving. For instance, a business takes a project and dissects it into micro-tasks. These tasks are assigned to workers who are skilled to complete them, such as freelance copywriters creating SEO content for articles and websites. Crowdsourcing is essentially a workforce that is assigned tasks to complete projects of any scale with high-value output.

In the normal course of doing business, an enterprise would have their own team of programmers, developers, scientists and other employees to discover new technologies or perform R&D tasks. Crowdsourcing takes this to another level and asks the worldwide resource of creative, industrious thinkers to perform micro-tasks in order to complete the project. This approach saves time and cost. It also enables the corporation to reach the market before their competitors. The overall benefits look significant:

Who is using Crowdsourcing?

To name a few, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Oreo are all turning to crowdsourcing as a cost-effective marketing strategy. Zeroing in on Coca-Cola as an example, the company announced last year that they would shift to an open business model, and they have kept their promise. Since the announcement, Coke has been working with their customers for new product development. They harnessed the power of their 50 million Facebook friends and asked for suggestions for an invention, social app or cause that could spread happiness. Using conte

sts to design new products is a great way to discover what is on the minds of consumers and what they feel is valuable or worthwhile.

Patagonia, a designer of outdoor gear and clothing, took a different approach to crowdsourcing. They noticed consumers sharing stories about their old Patagonia gear on social media. They created a Tumblr to capture their stories. Testimonial and review marketing is a huge part of brand confidence. Crowdsourcing content like this made it possible for the company to have a powerful voice in the market and demonstrate their value, longevity and appeal.

What is Crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding, like crowdsourcing, looks to the world at large, but instead of projects and tasks, crowdfunding looks for capital. Crowdfunding is a platform that connects individuals or startups in need of funding with people who are willing to contribute financially. Most people think of individuals or charities when they think of crowdfunding, but there some exciting crowdfunding efforts going on with large corporations as well.

Using crowdfunding to develop new products and services isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Corporations use crowdfunding as an economical way of product testing by offering early access to products at a reduced price. Consumers who buy in at this stage are emotionally and financially invested in the product. This compels them to provide valuable feedback and testing at a greatly reduced cost over typical R&D focus groups and studies. While big business is still new to the game, the benefits are promising:

Who is Using Crowdfunding?

Large corporations like Lego, General Electric, Gillette and Tyson Foods are using crowdfunding sources to engage customers on a level at which traditional R&D is not suitable. Drilling down to Lego as an example, the company would normally use traditional processes to research and develop a new product before taking it to a global launch. When Lego came up with an idea for toys aimed at adults, they wanted to make sure it resonated with consumers and chose crowdfunding to do the job.

The new Lego Forma product, mechanical models of animals requiring assembly, is aimed at adults who want to explore their creativity. By offering Forma at a 22 percent discount off the regular price, Lego created a huge focus group of invested consumers who would provide them with valuable feedback. As a result, Lego exceeded its goal of 500 donors by ten times, with 5,000 consumers providing feedback on the new Lego Forma. This valuable information goes right into the creation process, but the relationship Lego is building with consumers is priceless.

What is the Real Benefit?

Yes, there are efficiencies and cost savings by taking new ideas to the crowd. However, we observe that the reason for the success on both sides of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing come down to one thing: communication. Making good use of social apps and other methods of communication to invite the crowd to become an insider, with full bragging rights on testing a new product, is the real benefit that corporations reap from participating in crowd-based activities. In purchasing a pilot-product, consumers experience a certain level of investment in the product and if it sinks or swims.

As we said before, the rules of being a startup are changing, and consumer preferences on products, services and delivery methods are driving these changes. In such a competitive market, having a great product is no reason to stop and wait for success to come along. Send that product out into the crowd and continue to “build the airplane”. You will find useful feedback and funding from your new partners and creating a two-way communication to build your brand.

The Crowded Incubator

Is it apparent what our crowdsourcing and crowdfunding examples have in common? If you said that they were not actually startups at all, you would be right. These are all established, multinational corporations who are taking a chance on the crowd to facilitate their next big product innovations. Nevertheless, what does that mean for startups?

Most startups will agree that raising capital is the largest hurdle they have in front of them. Belonging to an incubation or acceleration program is not a guarantee of funding, especially for those in the early stages. As venture capital sources become scarcer and scarcer, new approaches like crowdfunding for capital and crowdsourcing for resources have enabled more startups to reach the next stage in their development. Business incubation and acceleration programs nurture startups with value-added services including:

Corporations that employ innovation management tools and collaborative innovation practices are more likely to develop new and interesting additions to their product or service portfolios. A new generation of business incubation and acceleration programs is developing right before our eyes, and they incorporate all these principals of change. 

Each form of funding, both venture capital and crowdfunding, will continue to serve a purpose in the future of the ecosystem. Working with a university-linked program gives entrepreneurs validation and credibility. And this gives potential investment partners a comfort level that they know how to run a business and that they have a viable product or service. From there, a successful crowdfunding effort demonstrates a market need, polishes the branding and makes the startup ready for an infusion of capital from a solid corporate partner.

Global Partners

We have demonstrated the benefits of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding and that their largest benefit is the new way consumers will communicate, and buy from, your corporate brand. What doesn’t come with crowd-driven interaction is time. This is where UBI Global comes in; thanks to our network of over 1200 incubation and acceleration programs all over the world, we are the crowd-driven incubation and acceleration resource your company needs for your next project.

Enterprise organizations work with UBI Global to find niche audiences for their new ideas and bring them to life with worldwide investment and intelligence. The UBI Global network of business incubation programs amplify new ideas and nurture them to become viable market leaders. Our programs follow best practices to reduce investment risk by proving market demand and providing entrepreneurs with solid business foundations. To find a partner program, contact us today for a personalized recommendation.

Working with startups is exciting, but it can also be difficult to keep up with a fledgling company, who can turn on a dime and remain nimble in their processes. The service portfolio you construct is a careful balance of providing value to your startup clients and managing your internal resources. With this in mind, this article digs into what a successful service portfolio that creates value for startups looks like.

Larger Offering to Startups Leads to Program Success

The World Benchmark Report 17/18 by UBI Global offered a clear picture of what a successful service portfolio of business incubators and accelerators towards their startups looked like. Of the fourteen categories of services offered by the benchmarked programs, the most successful (top average) programs offered eleven of these services. In contrast, programs that had average scores offered only nine services in their portfolios. Clearly, the programs that offered a wider range of services to their client startups were more successful overall.

Digging in deeper to the exact offerings that top programs offered that their lower scoring peers did not, the biggest discrepancies came in three categories. Access to Markets, Technology Transfer and Human Resources were services offered by almost all of the top programs, while the average programs offered these services 24, 29 and 31 percent less often, respectively. Taking a deeper look into these three categories, we can begin to form a picture of how these services contribute to the higher success rate of the top rated programs.

1- Access to Markets

This category is about the ability of the startup to communicate and trade in their respective market. The depth at which the startup can penetrate the market increases the long-term success of the company growth and viability. Providing a fledgling startup with access to their market early is a complex operation, often involving international trade, tariffs, quotas and more. There is a distinct give and take process when a startup first begins trading that should be carefully organized by the program. This is what sets top-ranked programs apart from their average performing peers: how well they orchestrate the access to market for their startups.

Understanding the processes that have an impact on market access is vital to the program. Fortunately, we have great examples in top-ranked programs such as Business Incubator of NRU Higher School of Economics (HSE Inc.) in Moscow, Russia, who conducts regular customer development activities, collecting feedback from client startups on a monthly basis with which to adapt and tweak their service portfolio. Providing access to the global markets has given HSE Inc. the ability to assist their startup programs in securing over $5 million in investments over the past 5 years, even though their startups are extremely early-stage maturity levels.

Top program tip – focus on the top processes that define a successful market access policy, which are:

2- Technology Transfer

Converting scientific advances made by startups or students into marketable goods and services is a process known as technology transfer. Some university-linked programs are stellar at technology transfer, spending a great deal of time on prioritizing technological breakthroughs and forming patents on behalf of the university and startup ecosystem. Lower rated programs often struggle to merge the world of academia with commercialism, sometimes due to different philosophies on either side, among other challenges.

Programs that form a practical, strategic approach to technology transfer become the intermediary between the world of academia and the commercial market. Taking charge of licensing agreements is just one-step for a program to mediate and merge these two worlds. Top-ranked programs also realize they have to develop their own understanding of how each side works and bridge any gaps that may create obstacles on the way to a successful startup. By consistently forming successful, sustainable companies through startup incubation, programs are certain to develop a reputation that university partners know they can rely on and trust.

Top program tip – Investors and industry insiders love prototypes; university partners who can assist with prototypes help programs and startups translate the effectiveness and importance of the product or service to potential investors, government partners and the public.

3- Human Resources

In the case of the UBI Global World Benchmark Study 17/18, the definition of human resources as part of a program’s service portfolio goes beyond the basic principles of recruiting and onboarding. In the case of the top-ranked programs, human resources are the actual people provided to the startup as part of the service portfolio.

Top-ranked programs know that universities are a gold mine of qualified, educated potential employees and staff for their startups. Working closely with research and development teams in the university puts healthy programs in touch with a vast network of faculty and students that become collaborators and even employees and officers of the graduate companies.

Top program tip – one of the best things about collaborating with a startup is the freedom to explore and to be different. This will appeal to many students, who crave innovative, risk-taking entrepreneur-focused cultures. Make sure your program conveys the type of culture and attitude they are looking for when recruiting for startup collaboration.

UBI Global is busy mapping, highlighting and connecting the world of business incubation through our World Benchmark Study 17/18. Join our network of more than 1200 member organizations worldwide that count on us to provide the best practices and tips from top university-linked programs.