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The History of Business Incubation
The Batavia Industrial Center, commonly known as the first U.S. business incubator, opened in Batavia, N.Y., in 1959. But the concept of providing business assistance services to early-stage companies in shared facilities did not catch on with many communities until at least the late 1970s. In 1980, approximately 12 business incubators were operating in the United States – all of them in the industrial Northeast, which had been hard-hit by plant closures in the previous decade.
Throughout the 1980s, business incubation industry growth was swift, as a few farsighted individuals saw the limitations of common economic development strategies that focused solely on industry attraction and large corporate expansions. As others began to recognize the value of creating and expanding new businesses to sustain local economies, more communities developed business incubators to support these new ventures. Three major activities drove industry growth during the period:
In more recent years, communities around the world have embraced the business incubation concept. In Columbus, Ohio; Birmingham, Ala.; Troy, N.Y.; Atlanta; San Jose, Calif.; Philadelphia; Canberra, Australia; Shanghai, China; Coventry, England; and in many other places, model incubation programs have become deeply respected institutions.
Recognizing the need for information sharing within this new growth industry, business incubation leaders formed the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA) in 1985 to provide training and tools for assisting start-up and fledgling firms and to serve as a clearinghouse for information on incubator management and development issues. The association’s membership has grown from approximately 40 members in its first year to approximately 1600 in 2006.