Business Incubation - Business Model Generation - Events

Alex Osterwalder to keynote InBIA’s International Conference on Business Incubation

Im happy to share that the International Business Innovation Association (InBIA) will kick off its 30thInternational Conference on Business Incubation with Alex Osterwalder as the opening keynote. Osterwalder invented the Bus2013-11-08 17.02.15iness Model Canvas and is the lead author of the Business Model Generation and Value Proposition Design books, which sold over a million copies in 37 languages. I was fortunate to have taken Osterwalders masterclass and have been teaching the methodology to Business Incubators all over the world. Having him speak at the largest gathering of business incubator managers in the world is very good news indeed.


Read InBIA’s press release here.

The conference will take place April 16-20, 2016 in Orlando, Fla. Registration for the conference is now open, click here for more information.


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Business Incubation - Business Model Generation - Coworking - Workshop

The importance of champions

Last month our team traveled to Guadalajara Mexico to run our Business Model Canvas training at the Autonomous University of Guadalajara. We were treated to working with the director of the University’s business incubator. As always during these visits, we experienced her enthusiasm as she gave us a tour of her facility and introduced us to her entrepreneurs with the pride any mother would feel for her own kids.

During this same trip we stopped by Guadalajara’s best rated coworking space “Nevermind”. We walked in unannounced, but the young lady at reception welcomed us warmly and offered us a tour. She took us around, explained how the space worked and gave us the backstory to its development. She obviously knew her members well and spoke of the space’s culture knowledgeably.

The two experiences got me thinking about community champions. The National Business Incubation Association has found that one of the keys to an incubation programs success is who heads it, and recent coworking research mirrors the finding. The community champion has to have a unique combination of qualities, which include being giving, outgoing and serviceable. But what about the skills they need to have in order to do their job properly?

  1. Community building – the difference between a real estate play and an entrepreneurial program is the people. Entrepreneurs can learn business skills in many different places both in person and online, paid or free. What they cannot get anywhere else is community, that group of people they interact with on a regular basis that knows what is going on in his or her life and cares. The champion has to understand how people like to work and how they interact in order to create that sense of belonging that keeps entrepreneurs engaged.
  2. Community curation – Making sure the members are comfortable and productive in the space means making sure new additions fit the culture. The champion needs to be able to create an intake process for new members conducive to maintaining an environment of collaboration. The champion should also try to include new members whose activities are complimentary to existing members without being competitive.
  3. Program management – besides the people aspect of a champion’s job is the administrative role. The champion will have to track member’s activities, whether for billing purposes in a coworking environment or for program participation in an incubation/acceleration environment. He will also have to ensure the facility is clean and operational at all times and know how to allocate time and usage in shared spaces. Finally he will be anticipating member needs through intake documentation such as lease, membership agreement, member/client manual, as well as ongoing notices of changes and updates in policies.

One way a champion can learn these skills is through an apprenticeship with an experienced manager. However, since that is not always available, many online resources are a good start. The National Business Incubation Association provides valuable training for incubator managers and the Global Coworking Conference Unconference provides learning opportunities for coworking champions. If you need more in depth training, we offer an online and in-person option for both coworking and incubation champions that is available on a continuous basis.



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Coworking - Workshop

Coworking Champions

Becoming a champion is a very special opportunity. Not everyone working in a shared workspace has the enthusiasm and skills that it takes to accomplish the tasks of champions, who must be highly motivated individuals with great communication skills, ease in interacting with both members internally and the public externally, and a high level of organizational skills as well.

Champions are the “faces” or “points of contact” in shared workspaces–the primary people responsible for ensuring that their spaces are operating smoothly, events are well-attended, and everything related to the spaces and members unfolds as seamlessly as possible. Their mission is to create successful spaces: settings in which like-minded people are encouraged and enabled to network, learn, collaborate, and grow, and enjoy their workspace experiences.

A champion’s role may expand depending upon his or her success in setting a strategic vision with the founder(s), ensuring that this vision is implemented, and increasing the financial strength and scope of the space as a whole. The champion knows how to engage community members to foster a sense of intrinsic ownership. Motivated by the core values of the shared space, the champion inspires other members to be similarly motivated and to contribute to establishing a feeling of true community.

A trained champion is a highly self-motivated person who is excited to be working in a collaborative environment. He or she has excellent organizational skills, is able to see what needs to be done, and makes it happen without the need for daily supervision or guidance. Possessing outstanding communication skills as well, the champion interfaces internally with members, existing networks, and the space founder(s), and externally through social media and the press.

A champion’s detailed responsibilities typically include the following: acting as the point of contact for members on a daily basis; on-boarding new and existing members; conducting tours for prospective members; and developing the workspace community by ensuring that each member is doing his or her part to collaborate to make the space run seamlessly. Champions are also responsible for initiating all communication and marketing both within the space and in the larger community. The champion creates and maintains the website, newsletters, blogs, special event flyers, and performs PR outreach by using social media and the press. Finally, special event organization and production also fall within the scope of a champion’s responsibilities.

Varela Consulting, a world leader in conducting trainings for shared workspace conception, development, and ongoing maintenance will soon be offering an eight-week Champion Training program, which will include two full days of on-boarding, plus two hours per week of ongoing support for the duration of the program. The champion training may also be extended once the basic program responsibilities have been mastered.

We will use videos, one-on-one sessions, and assigned readings to transmit the necessary skills. We will evaluate each champion continuously throughout the process to ensure understanding and retention based on rubrics specially designed for each responsibility detailed above.

If you work in a shared workspace and think that you have what it takes to become a true champion, or if you own or manage such a space and have identified one or more individuals whom you feel are well suited to take on these new and exciting responsibilities, please contact Varela Consulting for more information about our upcoming trainings.

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Business Incubation - Business Model Generation - Coworking - Events - Uncategorized - Workshop

Design-Build-Execute for Coworking Spaces

We’ve developed an exciting and unique process for evaluating and implementing new coworking spaces within business incubators that we call “design-build-execute.” The process is already in effect and showing great success. The three-stage process allows us to help you to decide if you have all the information and resources you need in order to foster a successful and fun coworking space within your incubator, and then to proceed with building and implementation.

In the design phase, we factor in all the qualities that make up an effective coworking space, and then utilize these factors in designing your own totally unique workspace. These factors include traffic flow, creation of different types of offices, resident and rotating desks, conference rooms, and casual spaces, special lighting, access to business equipment—overall efficiency of the entire space. Also extremely important is the human appeal factor—how desirable the space is in terms of comfort, stimulation, relaxation, community-building, and esthetic appeal—and how good the coffee is! (See our last Blog, Why Some Coworking Space Fail and others Prevail.)

In the build phase, we monitor every step in the construction of the coworking space according to the design parameters we have agreed upon, to create with you a beautiful, user-friendly, efficient, appealing space that will encourage both members and clients to linger and continue to enjoy the space. Finding the right Community Manager also becomes critically important in this phase. We also help you to implement a champion-growing program, in which particularly enthusiastic members of the community are trained and groomed to take on more and more responsibility, with the goal of them eventually becoming managers themselves.

In the execute phase, we launch your coworking model into a beta space, during which everyone involved discovers what works and what may need to be improved upon. A period of beta time is critical in order to create a truly effective coworking space that genuinely meets the needs of all its members. Changes can still be implemented during this phase, according to feedback and input from everyone involved in the project.

For a coworking space to truly succeed, member (and client) needs and desires must be considered and factored in, and changes made organically. Management must be willing to listen to members’ input, and flex along with it, if the space is going to evolve into a beautiful, community-minded, and highly desirable place to work, a space in which members can meet and greet and share information and new ideas, and stimulate each other to call upon their own creativity to solve their work and/or design challenges. Above all, a good coworking space should be a fun place to work, such that members and clients go home at the end of a busy day feeling good about themselves and the way they have just passed their time!

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Business Incubation

Will Startup Weekend lose its noble image?

Will Startup Weekend lose its noble image?

Last month, Techstars announced it had acquired Up Global, the non-profit umbrella of Startup Weekend, Startup Next, Startup Week and Startup Digest. Up Global was founded 2 years ago to extend Startup Weekend’s reach internationally, and is now present in over 100 countries.

I have been a mentor and judge at several Startup Weekends, including a memorable experience in San Pedro Sula Honduras. I truly enjoy the opportunity to work with the participants; helping them very quickly mold an idea into something they can execute on. Some of the projects are quirky or outrageous, but many have real potential. I have given my time freely to these events, and continue to do so with a handful of teams that I continue to mentor.

The fuel behind the Startup Weekend concept is a win-win experience for everyone involved. The entrepreneur gets an amazing learning opportunity, meets interesting people and has fun along the way. The organizing entity, whether a University, business incubator, government entity or something else, gets exposure, an opportunity to interact with their community and most importantly a way to draw potential entrepreneurs out of their garages and into their space. Sponsors and mentors get the warm, fuzzy feelings that comes with supporting a community event and helping entrepreneurs realize their dream.

However, as Startup Weekend transitions to its new for-profit status under Techstars, will the idea of someone profiting out of so many people’s donated time and effort mar the institutions image? Although this merger has not received a lot of press, there are several important issues to consider that will affect organizers, participants and supporters.

Will the communities continue to support Startup Weekend with their time and resources? Startup Weekend’s model has been rooted in the “give first” spirit coined by Brad Feld. Dozens of people come together to make the event happen, giving their time, the venue, food and even beer. But adding profit to the mix could change the dynamic. Recruiting volunteers, getting the corporate sponsorship and in kind donations are much easier when there is an altruistic purpose. The perception that someone profits from his or her gift could make gaining support more difficult.

Will Techstars cherry-pick the winners? To be sure, there is a need for support for the good projects that come out of the program. As I mentioned, I have continued to mentor companies long after a Startup Weekend has ended, even thought that was never an expectation from the organizers who asked me to participate. However good projects do develop in the 96 hours, and they should be given as much support as necessary. Currently, that support often comes from locally based business incubators or accelerators. Some Startup Weekends build working with them into the awards for the top rated teams. But with Techstars in the mix will they fear Techstars will take the best teams? Last month TechCrunch quoted David Cohen, a Techstars partner saying “We want to help entrepreneurs through the whole journey, from idea to IPO.” So clearly gaining access to the early stage participants in part of the Techstars strategy. Where does that leave other programs that in the past have provided participants that ongoing support?

Will the friendly competition turn cutthroat? In particular I worry about raising the stakes for entrepreneurs that participate in a Startup Weekend. As it is right now, the skin in the game for participants is a weekend of their time and their registration fee. There is an awareness that a winner will be chosen who gets some sort of prize, but usually that prize is merely meant to motivating participants for a couple of days. When you throw Techstars into the mix, does the expectation of getting funding and joining the accelerator program turn the once friendly competition into a knock down drag out fight to the finish? And for those promising teams that Techstars does not pick up, I hope they are still encouraged by the Startup Weekend experience rather than leaving demotivated for not being chosen.

Finding support for Startup Weekends has gotten easier over the years, the event is now well known and so are its outcomes. However as it transitions to becoming a for profit entity, organizers will face new challenges in getting the stakeholder and community support that has made Startup Weekend successful so far. To be fair, Startup Weekends are not moneymaking events. It is the potential volunteers, supporters and participants perception of gain that could affect the program’s dynamic.

Startup weekend has been around for 8 years, that might be enough time for the institution to have cemented its image and brand enough to overcome its shift into the for-profit world. It has already impacted positively entrepreneurs all over the world. Lets hope that this transition turns out to be just a ripple in the entrepreneurship support ocean.


Ana Greif, CEO at Varela Consulting


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Why Some Coworking Spaces Fail and Others Prevail

The coworking movement is booming. About ten years ago, corporations began to downsize and allow employees the flexibility to work wirelessly from anywhere in the world. Independent workers then found themselves dealing with isolation, loneliness, and a lack of stimulation in their home offices, so they sought out workplaces where they could benefit from the camaraderie, collaboration, inspiration, safety, and opportunities to grow their businesses that well-designed and managed coworking spaces provide.

These spaces are no longer just for freelancers, nomads, telecommuters, misunderstood corporate refugees, or start-ups. Both individual “solopreneurs,” and entire innovative companies are discovering the progressive advantages of coworking, which include networking, business referrals and expansion, and building life-long personal and business relationships.

Today, coworking spaces exist worldwide. An estimated four new spaces open up each day, adding to the 6,000-some existing spaces—but unfortunately, these spaces close at about half that rate too. Something is obviously going right for the spaces that prevail, and wrong for the ones that fail. Perhaps many were based on the premise, “Build a fun and funky space and they will come.” Important factors have been overlooked in the construction and management of the spaces that have not succeeded.

Globally, we could likely benefit from the existence of many more of these shared spaces, as they are radically altering the concept of the plodding nine-to-five job for thousands of people. Ideally, millions would be able to take advantage of the many benefits offered by coworking.

From my experience and research, the effective development of a coworking space involves working in a beta space for six to twelve months, which permits for organic growth and development and allows for continuing research, occupant feedback, holding focus groups, tracking metrics, and connecting the space with external communities like universities. Beta spaces are temporary pop-up locations and serve as a great place to make small or large mistakes on a manageable scale.

In addition to the necessity for beta space, there are four major keys to success in a coworking space:


Anyone who’s been in a well-designed space will agree that the moment they walk in, there is an instant connection–or lack of connection–to the rooms. Recent studies have proven that people judge their physical environment within the first twenty seconds after entering it. Emergent research at the 2015 Global Coworking Conference Unconference revealed that, “Even in the context of talking about facilities and infrastructure, the data is clear: People value human space far above office space.”

The following factors contribute greatly to the efficiency and functionality of a coworking space:

  1. Location: High density urban spaces are more successful than those in rural areas.
  2. Building: The building should be in very good condition, easily accessible, provide plenty of parking, and preferably feature tenant-designed improvements.
  3. Infrastructure: The materials in the space must work as intended. They need to be able to absorb sound and balance energy. Consider too how certain materials may affect communication signals that are vital for today’s daily work activities.
  4. Layout: Keep in mind extroverts, introverts, and spaces where spontaneous meetings may occur. Plan for plenty of lounging around, informal meeting spaces, and private spaces.
  5. Furniture: Must be functional and of commercial grade. Ergonomic design concepts are becoming increasingly more popular and available.
  6. Equipment: Don’t overdo it, and don’t over-promise and under-deliver. Do your homework. Every space will have unique needs, so consider your infrastructure and work with certified network providers who are willing to coordinate with your local providers and vendors.
  7. Sound Levels: Location, the building itself, layout, and furniture selection all play a part in the sound levels produced. Focus more on dispersing noise rather than trying to enclose it.


  1. Get to know your members on an intimate basis, and create authentic relationships with them. Understand your members, and their available markets. They are most likely seeking meaningful relationships and personal and business transparency themselves.
  2. Be your own true self. Look beyond yourself and pay close attention to others and their needs.
  3. Stand out by combining what you know about your customers and your business and what you have learned from your own extensive experience. The choices you make concerning the environment, leadership, and the foundation you lay at beta for organic community growth all feed into genuine authenticity.  


Leaders are the ones who control, guide, and make extensive improvements to the environment. True leaders control what Simon Sinek refers to as, “The circle of safety.” The leader(s) of a coworking space must belong to the community, and lead through inspiration by setting examples of creativity, total integrity, and transparency. The members have to feel that the leadership serves them in order for them to choose to stay and, ultimately, to promote the space, its constituents, the vision, and the leaders.

Leaders are responsible for everyone’s sense of safety and connectedness: the community managers, the volunteers, the members, and the local representatives. Everyone plays a different role, but all support the space for the same reasons. Real estate-centric coworking spaces, by contrast, are about selling desks first, with good leadership and building community as only a secondary goal. Well-led, community-powered coworking spaces usually start with a community, not a space.

In the course of further development of this community, “champions” begin to emerge. These are usually members who become truly enthusiastic supporters of the concept of coworking in general, and their own coworking space in particular, who promote the space heavily and get involved in the day-to-day decisions about design and operation of the business. Champions can be groomed to become management, or even owners.


Initiating, fostering, and nurturing a coworking community is an opportunity to bring a roomful of people together personally in our digitally-connected world. Everyone involved should feel a special sense of belonging to the whole, regardless of their backgrounds, their special areas of expertise, and their individual goals.

According Alex Hillman of Indy Hall, coworking space failures often have more to do with the failure to build community than space owners or managers care to admit. “The truth is that for every failure I’ve seen that blames it on some external factor, I’ve seen spaces succeed with those same external factors because they got the community part right.”

Coworking is more than the real estate and more than strong individual brands. Coworking is community. Coworking spaces allow people to connect, be more productive, collaborate, and be the happiest they’ve ever been while working, and this is what ultimately is making the movement accelerate so rapidly. These qualities are easily copied and have been copied by thousands.

Though many have tried to replicate the coworking experience, few have truly succeeded for one simple reason: The spaces alone are not what make coworking special. Coworking has evolved into something much more than space and connections. It represents idealism. A good coworking space is for those who long to be a part of a community that envisions a brighter and more productive world than today’s, a world in which big ideas and big global changes can evolve!


Coworking – Wikipedia

Number of Coworking Spaces Has Skyrocketed in the U.S.

When Coworking Spaces Fail

1320 Coworking Spaces Worldwide

Coworking – Not Just For Early Adopters Anymore

Coworking: Any old spot won’t do

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek (Book)

Coworking by the Numbers – The Results of the 2015 GCUC/Emergent Research Coworking Survey

Jacob Sayles Office Nomads, Seattle, Washington










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Business Incubation - Business Model Generation - Coworking - Events - Workshop

A message from our CEO, Ana Greif

You are busy advising your clients, promoting your program in the community and keeping income and expenses balanced. Do you have time to scour the hundreds of magazine articles, blogs and research papers available to keep yourself current in the entrepreneurship support field?

Over the past 7 years, since I founded Varela Consulting, I have worked with many of you on projects, leading trainings and supporting your programs. I have enjoyed visiting your facilities, getting to know your teams and more than anything watching your programs evolve.

This year, I have set out to find a way to make the information you need available to more entrepreneurship professionals. Until today only those who brought us on for a project or to train on a particular topic could access our specialized and curated knowledge base.

Today I am happy to introduce our new newsletter and redesigned website where we will deliver the most up to date information about developing and managing your entrepreneurship program.

I also want to issue a warm welcome to Varela Consulting’s new team member Stephanie Bermudez. Stephanie has a successful background in coworking and will be sharing her experience and best practices with our community. You can read her bio on our website and feel free to reach out to her at

Enjoy this first issue of our newsletter and please let us know if you have suggestions for what you would like to see in future editions.

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Business Model Generation

A Deeper Look At Business Model Generation

I fell in love with the Business Model Canvas the first time I leafed through the book. After so many years of guiding entrepreneurs through the business development process with the inadequate tool known as the business plan, finally I stumbled onto a method that kept it simple and allowed for experimentation on the business before committing resources.

I truly just stumbled on the now well-known book by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, a couple of years ago, riding in the back seat of a car through the streets of Mexico City. My colleague from NBIA Tom Strodtbeck rode in the front seat with our host Carlos Maynor Salinas, then Director of the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Business Incubation Network, who had invited us to speak to the managers of the incubators in his network. As they carried on a conversation I couldn’t hear over traffic noise, I distractedly looked around where I sat. I saw a book full of drawings on the cover that immediately caught my attention. Business Model Generation read the title and as I browsed through the pages I recognized a tool that would have important implications for our industry.

Fast forward to November 2013, and I am now in San Francisco participating in a workshop led by none other than Osterwalder himself. I will add there was a guest appearance by Steve Blank that really put the icing on an already outstanding two days of learning. I now understand a few things about the canvas that were novel to me and I hope are useful to you:

  1. The canvas was not created for start-ups. I expected to be in a room full of incubator managers, consultants and entrepreneurs. Instead, I was surrounded by people from mature, established companies like Clorox. As Osterwalder explained, these companies must innovate their business model or expect to go the way of Kodak. That was the motivation behind his research and his book.
  2. It doesn’t matter where you start. Most of us have read through the book and have this idea to start from the right and work towards the left. You identify your Customer Segment then work your way through Value Proposition and finally Key Partners. However, I learned that you can start anywhere, with the Value Proposition, Key Activities, Revenue Streams, or any of the boxes. The point is to make sure you have filled in all the boxes and assigned at least one value proposition for every customer segment you identify.
  3. You don’t stop at one- or two, or three. I have worked with many entrepreneurs and it always seemed like I ended up with 4 or 5 canvases for a business, which left me feeling like that was somehow wrong. In the workshop, we learned the real value of the canvas is that you can create as many versions of a business as you can imagine- in fact it is recommended that you do. The goal is not to find a business model that works, the goal is to find the one that works best. And to do that you must come up with as many versions as possible, rule out the crazy ones, and dive deeper into a few that make sense.

Have you used the canvas with your entrepreneurs? Has it made the business ideation process easier or have you not seen an advantage? Please share your experience!

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Business Incubation - Business Model Generation - Coworking - Workshop

Assisting Startups using the Business Model Canvas

Are you interested in learning the Business Model Generation methodology and making it available to your entrepreneurs? I am happy to introduce a workshop I developed based on the Business Model Generation methodology, designed for both existing businesses and star-ups. The workshop stems from my experience with many companies using the Business Model Canvas over the past couple of years, and the unique experience of participating in a workshop led by author Alex Osterwalder. I created this workshop, which can be offered as a one or two day program, to enable entrepreneurship programs and business incubators to make the process available to its clients. We will be running the first two workshops in English and Spanish in Los Angeles at the end of January and in Corpus Cristi in March. Interested in hosting the workshop? Contact us at

Happy modeling!

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Business Incubation

Where did the term “Business Incubation” come from?

The Batavia Industrial Center in Batavia New York is considered to be the first business incubator in the world. I recently had an opportunity to visit the massive one million square foot facility and chat with the founder’s son and current CEO Tom Mancuso. It was a great experience after so many years of working in incubation and visiting dozens of incubators, to see this pioneer program. Above all my visit was a learning experience about how incubation was born and why business incubation is important. Over the next few posts I will share some of these lessons.

The term business incubator is so appropriate for what we do. Young companies, sometimes not much more than idea, enter a business incubator that provides an ideal growing environment. The incubator nourishes the start-up and its founder with advice and support until it matures and ultimately become self-sustainable and leaves.

What I have always wondered is, how did the term “business incubator” come about? During my visit to the Batavia Industrial Center I asked Tom. As he tells it, when his father and uncle purchased the old Massey Ferguson building that now houses the Batavia Industrial Center, one of the first businesses they supported was a local chicken hatchery. The business bred chickens on the third floor of the building. Soon enough, Tom’s father Joe Mancuso started giving tours to visitors and potential tenants. During these tours, Joe explained what they were doing using the hatchery as an analogy, “The hatchery incubates chickens and we incubate businesses.” The name stuck, and from there an entire industry was born.

In my next post I will recount why the Mancusos purchased this facility and how it went from being a manufacturing entity to the world’s first business incubator.

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