Incubating the incubators for five days in November

What learning looks like with the Frontier Incubators program



What do you do?

You are given the opportunity to meet with over 70 talented individuals, from 38 different organisations. They come from a range of countries, and work in a number of sectors. They are bound by a shared dedication to supporting entrepreneurs and are all ready and willing to share, learn, and improve. You have a total of five days to spend with them. What do you do?

This was the enviable challenge of the Frontier Incubators workshop, which took place over five intense but rewarding days in Singapore in mid-November last year. As the program’s delivery team, we knew that we had a great responsibility to make this workshop as valuable as possible.

We wanted it to be a source of high-quality content, a place for rich discussion and debate, and a way to learn more deeply about each organisation’s wants and needs.

By the end of the workshop, our group had transformed from a collection of loosely connected near-strangers, to a tight-knit support network. We were essentially incubating a group of incubators, so to create such a memorable, unifying experience for them was an amazing learning opportunity.

How was this done in just five days? The way we see it, the Frontier Incubators workshop can be broken down into three key components: content delivery, one-on-one interactions, and ‘getting to know you’ spaces.

Content Delivery

The Frontier Incubators Program Partners are leaders in the field of incubation and acceleration, and bring with them a wealth of experience and knowledge of what makes an incubator or accelerator work. Together, they designed and delivered sessions on 15 different topics ranging from Financial SustainabilityGender and Power, to Reducing the Disruption of Team Turnover.

The topics were informed by the work of the Program Partner organisations, and sourced from the incubators and accelerators themselves. Rather than assume what they were interested in learning about — we asked them, and designed a curriculum that met their needs.

Importantly, the creation of these sessions was an incredibly collaborative process. While one Program Partner organisation may have led the delivery of a session, another two or three or four organisations provided feedback on the topic, content, and structure. This helped to provide multiple perspectives on each topic. Given the structural, contextual and geographic diversity of the incubators in the program, it was important to present varied approaches to supporting entrepreneurs, and to reinforce that there is no ‘one right way’.

Program Partners also collaboratively delivered the sessions on the day. This was done both formally, as a co-presenter, and informally, by contributing to discussions, answering questions, and providing real-world examples for the incubators.

The diversity of the Frontier Incubators program is one of its greatest strengths, but — as these things so often go — that diversity also poses one of its biggest challenges.

In addition to the diverse range of ethnicities, languages and experiences, the way that the 70+ workshop attendees think and learn also ranged greatly. With so many voices in the room it was essential that we offered a number of different ways for people engage.

We therefore decided to deliver the 15 sessions in two main formats:

Plenary sessions. These took place in the largest, central room of the venue allowing for all participants to attend at the same time. This format was used to introduce topics and deliver theory. Some topics also included a panel discussion component, which opened up the space for further dialogue and debate. While people did make comments and ask questions, the plenary sessions were the less interactive of the two formats.

Masterclasses. These parallel group sessions were run in smaller breakout rooms, and usually had around 20 to 30 people in attendance. These smaller groups allowed for more interactive activity-based sessions, where people could ask specific questions and move around the space a bit more.

I really like the activities within the sessions that have us move around physically. They invigorate me and keep me focused on the content at hand, and enable me to participate actively Junaid Malik, Takhleeq

One-On-One Sessions

In any field, time spent speaking one-on-one with someone who really knows your business can be invaluable. As a result, it can be also costly and extremely hard to find.

The collective knowledge of the Frontier Incubators Program Partners is immense. Having them all there together in the one space with our incubators wasn’t something we were about to let go to waste.

In dedicated one-on-one time, or ‘Office Hours’, participants were able to talk specifically about their needs, and the needs of their organisation with our incredibly experienced and informed Program Partners. These conversations went well beyond an introductory chat, and provided the incubators with an opportunity to improve their services through realistic, actionable information, and access to a global perspective.

The one-on-one sessions are always very informative and constructive, and help me answer my biggest questions. I’m also very happy that we can actually approach the partners during lunch, on outings, basically anywhere and anytime and have the same productive conversations.Pham Thi Mai and Ta Huong Thao, KisStartup

Getting to know one another

In addition to being an incredible source of information around all things incubation and acceleration, the workshop attendees are also a group of interesting and accomplished people, in their own right.

We didn’t want to lose sight of the humans behind all of that expertise, and planned a number of casual dinners and activities where the participants, Program Partners, and the Frontier Incubators team could share good food and even better stories. Even if the evening began with a networking event or presentation, we always tried to provide an end to the formalities so people had some time to decompress at the end of each day.

Despite it being a pretty packed schedule, there were lots of opportunities to interact over lunch and between sessions during the workshop hours. Even so, there is something different that happens when you step out of the venue space, away from the post-it notes and the whiteboards.

These evening activities provided a much needed time to relax and unwind, have fun, and just talk to each other. We were able to connect in a way that freed us from the professional armour that is so often worn in conference settings.

Another reflection I had was the quality of the people in this room. We are all connectors. And now how we are connected together it makes it so powerful.Melanie Mossard, Impact Hub Phnom Penh

An enviable and rewarding challenge

As the Frontier Incubators delivery team, we were given the incredible opportunity of designing a full, week-long experience for a community who are also experienced facilitators and conveners.

The mix of interactive workshop sessions, one-on-one office hours, relationship building networking events, and laid-back social activities was a recipe for building a strong and lasting community of practice.

By incorporating global best practices in convening, we were able to deliver a wealth of information in ways that supported a variety of learning styles. This was complemented by spaces and environments in which people could connect and build relationships across a variety of cultures and experiences.

There is a comforting sense of closeness that develops when people spend five, intense days together — sharing their experiences, taking in overwhelming amounts of information, and voicing their opinions on topics that are dear to their hearts.

From a program perspective, we are thrilled that these participants have started their working relationship by learning together and solving problems as a unified group. More importantly, this kind of collaboration sets the foundation for a community of support. A community that we hope will continue to grow, and extend beyond Frontier Incubators program.

No one partner in the room can do everything for everyone. All can apply something to scale impact in an important way. That collaboration will scale impact in the region and the world.Kalsoom Lakhani, Invest2Innovate

You can also keep in touch via #FrontierIncubators on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Frontier Incubators is an initiative of the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s innovationXchange and is delivered by Conveners.orgSecondMuse and ygap. Photos by Lau Chong Jin.