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Talent - the most valuable resource for incubators now

Updated: Mar 29, 2022

Sourcing your team in a post-pandemic, virtual era

In an earlier blog, I wrote about the importance of finding the right talent at the right stage of a social enterprise. This naturally got me thinking about how critical it is for an impact incubator, too, to find the right kind of talent. Especially now, with the future of work changing, redefining the nature of talent required to run an impact incubator and its availability are an interesting challenge.

In our conversations with many impact incubators, we found that their need for talent is second only to their need for funding. And this need is in two areas specifically: a) staff to run the incubator and b) the right mentors for their incubatees. Finding the right mentors is a topic that requires much more attention and we will deal with that in a subsequent blog. In this blog, however, I’ll be focusing on the talent required to run an incubator successfully.

Most impact incubators are founded by one or a few dedicated individuals who have an empathetic connection to problems faced by the economically disadvantaged in their society and are passionate about fostering social enterprise in their ecosystems. In true entrepreneurial fashion. They get started with their work, turning a blind eye to the gaps in their talent requirements. Eventually, their work ends up attracting like-minded individuals who want to be part of this mission and also gain experience in this sector. Many of them end up taking support roles in the functioning of the incubator and even work their way up into leadership positions. But, this process is reactive, takes a long time to source such talent and is also unfocused. Consequently, founders usually face two types of problems when it comes to supporting talent:

  1. The initial learning curve required to bring these individuals up to speed (this ends up taking significant bandwidth for the founding team).

  2. The stickiness of this type of talent (In fact, many founders assume that their team would go through a churn every 3 to 4 years).

While many founding teams put internship programs in place to fill the junior-level positions, finding people with the appropriate experience for mid- to senior-level positions is always a challenge in every ecosystem. Adding to this problem is the common trend among incubators to evaluate candidates through short-term roles before they take them on to fill the mid / senior roles. Also, most impact incubators are very flat organizations with very few levels between entry- and leadership-level positions, and many of the initial hires work their way up into leadership positions. The most common growth path for support staff in these organizations is usually one of expanding roles as opposed to fancier job titles. This is a contributing factor to attrition, since many opt to get diversity of experience and leave for other related jobs in the ecosystem.

But there may be light at the end of the tunnel. The pandemic has forced many of these operations to become virtual, and hence, access to talent across various geographies is now open. Many who thought taking up an in-person role at an incubator was difficult, are now open to virtual roles and are seriously considering these roles for the social impact factor. Many of the fellowship programs that were entry points for individuals into the development sector ,such as the IDEX fellowship, and fellowships by Amani Institute, have also become virtual and are seeing many more individuals dipping their toes in the impact sector.

We also see study after study about the great resignation where employees have expressed increasing interest for their work to be socially relevant and impactful. A recent study by Gartner reported that a record 62% employees have said the pandemic has made them long for a substantial change in their lives, whereas 56% employees said they are looking for more purpose-driven work. Many incubators too were forced to switch to virtual functioning during the last couple of years and are now well-placed to engage a virtual staff from across geographies. Will this significantly impact the talent need of impact incubators? Many incubators we work with have mentioned that their work has become a lot easier and more expansive by switching to virtual, but the critical activity of building trust with incubatees is still best accomplished in person. However, one thing is certain – these are going to be interesting times for the future of work at impact incubators.

For more insights on the impact of the great resignation on the future of work, watch our latest Wednesday Wisdom Session in the Villgro Knowledge Hub (Free Signup).


Arun Venkatesan

Co-founder and CEO at Villgro USA

Arun is passionate about scaling impact by helping impact incubators succeed. He led Villgro India's health sector before his current role at Villgro USA

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