We here at the Clouded Leopards Den 2015 prize are fanatics about cloud innovation – and for many of us, that means incubators! For entrepreneurs bringing dreams to life, there’s no better environment to work – and success – that a technology incubator. Dozens of incubators all round the world are an incredible resource for startups creating new products and service for the cloud, as well as wearables, Big Data, the Internet of Things and mobile.

What do you find at a tech incubator?

  • There’s working space, sometimes with offices, sometimes with huge open space areas with big tables. There’s infrastructure including broadband Internet, data storage, white boards, meeting rooms, and most importantly, coffee.
  • There are dozens of other tech leaders to chat with in a variety of roles from CEO to chief software architect to hardware engineer to finance to marketing specialist.
  • Often, but not always, there is seed money investment, to supplement the “friends and family” plan and the too-common overdrawn credit cards.
  • And there are classes, on-site advisors and even tutoring to help develop a product plan, and then keep on track to proofs-of-concept and first product releases.

Incubators have a lot in common – but they are distinct, not cookie-cutter programs. Let’s briefly examine three out of dozens around the world:

Y Combinator, arguably the most famous tech incubator, was launched in the San Francisco Bay Area a decade ago, in March 2005. Twice a year, it invests US$120,000 in startups, which are required to move to Silicon Valley for three months. A typical group of startups is about 80-90. Since its launch it has funded over 700 startups, taking 7% equity in each one. Y Combinator pays all the expenses while the startup gets through its earliest phase, after which the incubator introduces the startup to later stage investors or even outright acquirers.

Ignite100 is in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England. Founded in 2011, the firm – which calls itself an accelerator, rather than an incubator – offers £18,000 ($30,000) per team in return for 8%. Ignite100 boasts an impressive success rate: “Teams are more likely to raise more investment with Ignite. Startups from our first three cohort have raised over £10 million – compared to other accelerators focussing on pre-seed teams, Ignite is the top programme in the UK.” Startups also can work on the Ignite100 campus for four months, and network with mentors, specialists, angel investors, VCs and program alumni. The organization also makes introductions to U.S. investors.

TechNexus demonstrates that U.S.-based startups don’t need to be in Northern California. Based in Chicago’s huge innovation district, TechNexus is proud to be in, “the city’s newest, largest and most advanced tech workspace, which takes up an entire floor of the historic Civic Opera Building. Over 50,000 square feet are available for corporate partners and entrepreneurs to work together in a variety of arrangements, from expandable co-working spaces and virtual offices, to permanent offices for teams, meeting rooms, and technology workshops.” Membership in the incubator costs $250/month, which gives access to all the facilities. More than 200 ventures have grown or are being developed in TechNexus, which launched in 2007. The organization will also invest, but unlike many others, doesn’t have a standardized investment-for-equity package.

As you can see, technology incubators are an exciting source of cloud innovation! We wish great success (and future funding!) to the entrepreneurs currently at Y Combinator, Ignite100, TechNexus and all the dozens of incubators around the world. We invite all those early-round startups – and later-stage ones as well – to apply for the Clouded Leopards Den 2015 prize. Check here for the entry form, and follow the competition at @CloudLeopardDen.