How CEI graduate VisionGate crushed their business incubator experience


As a business incubator professional, I truly enjoy watching entrepreneurs take advantage of the plethora of resources at their disposal within a program – from advice and mentorship to facilities and equipment. VisionGate, a company that has developed innovations for the early detection and prevention of lung cancer, graduated from the Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation (CEI) incubator in Phoenix, Arizona in October 2015 and totally crushed the experience in 3 major ways.

They were not afraid to make an ask

People in general – much less entrepreneurs – fail to get to the point. They dance around their “ask” for fear of rejection or because they don’t want to appear too needy. Although totally understandable, it can actually hinder the major opportunities a business incubator can offer. We were fortunate to have additional EDA grant funding for the purchase of capital equipment, and we were seeking out client opinions on exactly how to allocate those dollars. Around that time, VisionGate President Scarlett Spring approached our leadership and recommended building a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) lab, a federally regulated lab environment capable of processing human blood and tissue. As she described it, this would help their company as they commercialized and would help CEI position itself for years to come with cutting-edge biotechnology businesses in Phoenix. It was that type of creative thinking and collaboration that we wanted – a purchase that could benefit our current client companies but also keep us relevant in the future. And it all started with that initial ask. 

The lesson is don’t be afraid to go after what you want. That does not mean you need to be selfish and take, take, take…but you can leverage the relationships you have in order to advance your business forward. It would be criminal not to.

They recognized the talent around them

How can you fully maximize your tenure within an incubator or accelerator if you never show up or interact with your fellow entrepreneurs? The short answer is: it’s really hard and very likely impossible. One of the single greatest sources of underutilized knowledge and skills is the other members, especially those in a similar industry vertical or stage of development. VisionGate leadership took the time to learn about every CEI client and how they might be able to help one another. For instance, this ultimately facilitated very meaningful conversations between Scarlett and fellow client Pinnacle Transplant Technologies and its CEO Russ Yelton. Both were swimming in the same biotech / medical device pool, and they could share struggles and best practices of leading an industry disrupting, high growth company. In addition, they both had extensive experience in the entrepreneurial space and could offer incredible insights to each other.

The lesson is: get to know your neighbor! You never know what type of knowledge they can impart in the growth of your business. We have had numerous clients experience extensive collaboration that was sparked by a cursory conversation in the hallways. There’s a reason we call it hallway magic around here.

They let us showcase their successes

As a marketing guy, I find the lack of promotional engagement from some entrepreneurs startling. I basically offer free publicity to the CEI audience which includes business leaders, government officials and the major players within the Phoenix startup community. And yet there are times where I have learned of major announcements from clients several days or weeks later through a passing conversation or via social media. This is a missed opportunity because of the expanded visibility business incubators can offer. The VisionGate communications team, led by Shelley Parnell, was very proactive in keeping me in the loop of company successes and helping me craft appropriate messaging consistent with both of our objectives. They were always willing and excited to be included in one of our press releases and were equally responsive in order to meet our timelines.

The lesson is: capitalize on the built-in audience of the incubator program. It can be especially valuable if you do not have a large social community engaged with your business or if you have minimal marketing and PR efforts. It’s free publicity after all!

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Greg BullockComment