An incubator is an opportunity for company founders to take an idea out of the confines of reality -- to put it in boot camp, so to speak, and plug it with resources to achieve growth that could not otherwise be generated. These resources include mentorship, access to top talent and time set aside to work solely on their company.
The outcome of incubators is seeing a vision take shape and become a finished product. It's alluring, but not surprisingly, it involves a lot of hard work. We asked 12 entrepreneurs to share some insight about being an entrepreneur, what lessons they learned and what they wished they knew before going into an incubator program.
1. Alex Mann, Co-Founder, Rzerv 
"It's not a 9-5 job. It's exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. If you love your project then that will keep you going. If you don't and don't appreciate the opportunity, you'll fail, guaranteed."
"Utilize every single contact you make and don't be afraid to network like crazy, from industry players who may help you long term, to the other members of the incubator who may help you with a pressing problem."
2. Charmaine Tangonan, Co-Founder, The Active Generation 
"Learn to walk the line between being open to feedback and pivoting, and having conviction in your vision for your product/company."
"All incubators have different strengths they can provide -- be sure you pick an incubator program that complements your needs best. After all, you're developing a relationship!"
3. Peter Pelberg, Co-Founder, Yog 
"Bring focus. You've got 2-3 months of "free" float -- take advantage of every second of it."
"Know what you need help with. You will meet many people who have successfully gone through the startup process -- when you get in front of them, come prepared with one or two challenges you are currently facing. This will it make it easiest for them to provide you actionable feedback and will make for a stronger connection later on."
4. Andy Jaing, Co-Founder, Piggy Back 
"It is important to have some involvement in the startup community -- attend events, meet other entrepreneurs, go to hackathons to stay on top of the latest emerging technologies, etc. The benefits include not only just networking and growing your contacts, but also encouragement, support and cross-pollination of ideas."
"Successful people across all disciplines are skilled at explaining complex ideas to anybody. It is critical to spend time making your pitch to investors as easily understandable as possible -- you can have the best idea in the world, but realize that it is futile if no one can understand the problem you are solving."
5. Will Dennis, Co-Founder, Liquid  (formerly Spinlister)
"Know that going into an incubator program, if you work hard, you can make six months of progress and a year's worth of connections in 2-3 months. It's on you to make the most of it but if you do it's a serious leg up."
"When you're young, getting things done is the best way to have people take you and your idea seriously. People can't argue with progress and traction."
6. Ari Winkleman, Co-Founder, Involvio 
"While it's critical to deeply understand your startup's mission, you don't need to have all the answers. In fact, leaving some uncharted and flexible areas in your company's roadmap will help to ensure that you'll leverage the expertise of not only mentors and advisors, but also other entrepreneurs in your program."
" 'The best time to eat the appetizers is when they're being served.' Essentially, your team should analyze opportunities while they're hot so that you can to choose to take advantage of them or pass before it's too late."
7. Joe Adelmann and Jim Jablonski, Zoetic Sensors 
Joe: "The incubator gives you access to some amazing people who all have different opinions. At the end of the day it was your passion for your idea that brought you here so it’s important to learn how to take advice without losing sight of your vision."
"Talk to as many people as you can. These personal connections and conversations will give you so many valuable insights and will open doors for you as you progress."
Jim: "Know your team. Ensure anyone you bring in is someone you can trust and work with for the long haul.
"Any chance you get, make connections with people!"
8. Yaniv Rivlin, Co-Founder, Career Vibes 
“Be prepared for an intense life-changing experience. There is no one day that is similar to another. Be open minded in general and ready to embrace change, make mistakes and for the possibility of pivoting your product. Incubators are where you will learn lessons that you won’t find on the internet or in books.”
“I learned how much I don’t know and that failure is not a curse word. You might have the best idea in the world, but so many factors determine if you will succeed or not. Always learn from your failures and analyze them, you will only grow and improve from them. Each person that came to speak with us had different attributes for his/her success, so always be true to yourself.”
9. Tim Sae Koo, Co-Founder, Tint 
"Look at the resources around given to you, and take advantage of it like no other. Sometimes, the people you know and connections you have can be your competitive advantage."
"Never stop asking questions. The most important task for first-time entrepreneurs is to learn if what they are doing makes sense to the market. And the only way to understand is to ask questions."
10. Lindsay Boyajian, Founder, WeareverYouGo 
"My greatest piece of advice going into an incubator program is to ask questions, take notes and follow up with everyone you meet. You never know what gem of information someone may share with you that can help drive you forward."
"The most valuable lesson that I learned in the incubator was how to craft and deliver an impactful elevator pitch. It seems so simple, but that short phrase is your one chance as an entrepreneur to convey your vision."
11. Jason Blanck and John Ganotis, Co-Founders, Broodr 
Jason: "Funding and contacts are no substitute for hard work. Incubators don't equal success and if you want to win you must be willing to grind it out 24/7, with or without an incubator."
"It's okay to experiment and deviate from your original plans. Many of the successful people in GE|OMD incubator have either grown their projects into something bigger, or morphed them into an even greater opportunity."
John: "Make sure you are already engaging a group of people (your target market) before going into an incubator, whether it's a blog, email list or Facebook page. Focusing on the distribution first allows you to spend time in the incubator building and iterating a product people will actually use."
"Set weekly goals and milestones for your most important metrics. If you can't improve change what you're doing."
12. Natalie Bryla, Co-Founder, Best Friend Box 
"Joining an incubator is like joining an entrepreneurial support network. Take advantage of the help offered to you, and make sure to network in the community. The connections you make will stay with you for the rest of your life."
"Select an incubator that suits you and your business's needs. Each one offers something different, so do your homework."
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December 05, 2012