Start-Up Tips: Incubators

Joining an incubator can deliver an instant and sustained dopamine hit to start-ups. It permits dreaming, fosters planning, and re-charges the emotional batteries of co-founders.

Yet not all incubators will be right for all start-ups. And to reach incubator heaven, start-ups must be able to separate what they want from what they need.

In search of extra insight on this tricky start-up life decision, Legal Geek spoke to four absolute law-gends from the incubator / accelerator world.

Tip 1. Assess what you receive from an incubator against what you’re required to put in. 

Daniel von Devivere: “Make up your mind on what you expect from being there because a lot of people have expectations that are too high. They just come in and say they are working on a nice product and they expect people to say this is exactly what I’ve been waiting for for the last 10 years. It’s appropriate to see it as a tool to leverage what you already have or what you are trying to build. But an incubator is not a wonder machine.”

Daniel von DevivereDaniel is building the the first legal innovation hub in continental Europe, Reinvent Law, based in Frankfurt.


Shruti Ajitsaria: “Work out the cost of joining the incubator, whether that cost is equity or otherwise. And be very clear on what you get back for that equity or other contribution. Some incubators provide free legal advice; but that is very different to Fuse which provides our cohort with access to Allen & Overy lawyers and clients to help develop, test and pilot their technologies. Also, be clear on what the time commitments are, the level of seniority which is required, and whether you feel the culture of your company and the incubator will be a good fit.”

Shruti is the Head of Fuse – Allen & Overy’s tech innovation space launched in September 2017.


Tip 2. Consider approaching an incubator before making an official application.

Shruti Ajitsaria: “If you’re able to make contact with an incubator before making your application that can hold benefits too. There is a world of difference between receiving an application from someone we haven’t heard of before, versus one we may have met and have even received a demonstration from.

“Of course when contacting people out of the blue, you have to be conscious of their time commitments, but I would see it as a positive if someone is reaches out to Fuse before applying as it demonstrates a genuine interest to understand more.”

Tip 3. Have a watertight plan for growth.

Shara Gibbons: “Part of the criteria for residents of the LawTech Eagle Lab is understanding the investment that the company has received to date. If it’s seed investment, then one of the key things we ask is about their future funding plans. Another factor is whether they are a high-growth business looking to scale-up quite quickly. What I typically ask is what their 5-year projections are, as well as what are the short, medium and long-term goals within that time period.”

Shara is the LawTech Ecosystem Manager for Barclays’ first Eagle Lab dedicated to LawTech. The lab consists of a 100-person space and is backed by 13 law firms, as well as Legal Geek.

Anton Pronin: “At Skolkovo our experts are looking for innovations. Any potential start-up must possess this element as well as the potential for commercialisation. It has to be a product which customers want to buy.”

Anton ProninAnton is the LegalTech Director as Russia’s Skolkovo Innovation Centre – a multi-billion dollar purpose-built city designed to stimulate innovation across Russia’s economy.


Tom Gummer: “Know exactly what your product vision is and be able to express it in a short elevator pitch. Founders spend so long coming up with ideas that they can easily go down a rabbit hole of detail when explaining their product. It may make sense to them, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense to someone who only has 5 minutes to understand the product.”

Tom Gummer

 Tom is the Innovation Manager at global law firm Kennedys. He is the co-founder and manager of Kennedys’ technology incubator & accelerator programme.

Tip 4. Speak to start-ups who have been there and done it.

Shruti Ajitsaria: “Do your research on the different incubators before you speak to them. One of the most useful things is speaking to previous start-ups who have been in that specific incubator previously.”

Tip 5. Stick to the game plan.

Tom Gummer: “A few years ago, me and friend made it through to the final round in the selection process to join Seedcamp with our property venture Neatsplit. One thing I think we got wrong was showing too much flexibility when fielding questions from investors about our business model. When they asked ‘have you thought about tweaking this part of your model’ or ‘what about this secondary market’, we were too flexible and that didn’t wash particularly well. I think investors want to see that you have a game plan and you are going to see that through. I think we let ourselves down in being too malleable. We thought we would please investors but I think we lost the mind game because they were looking to see if we would stick to our guns.”

Tip 6. Where possible, demonstrate your product.

Shruti Ajitsaria: “Being able to demonstrate your technology is a big plus. If I meet with a start-up and they can show me what their technology does – even in a very basic way – that is much more meaningful than simply being able to talk about it.”

Tip 7. Know your rivals.

Shara Gibbons: “I like to ask whether the companies have identified who their competitors are and what they know about them. This shows how well they know their industry and market and tells me a lot about the business and its founders.”

Tip 8. If you are unsuccessful at first, keep trying. 

Anton Pronin: “At Skolkovo, we only accept about 30% of all the applications we receive. Usually start-ups apply 2-3 times before being accepted. We are a government organisation, we don’t charge any fee and we don’t take a part of the company so you have to represent a real innovative commercial opportunity.”

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