The assignment here was to take a function of the university system (I chose its function as an incubator of talent) and imagine unbundling something we find in the university’s current, bundled configuration (I chose copresence).
I’m struggling to think of examples of incubators that incubate talent as well as a university does, that manage without the copresence of residential dorms and a physical, immobile campus.
We should expect to see the best examples of non-copresent incubators in the field of technology where members are extremely comfortable with the technologies that facilitate non-copresence. But as often as we find people working and learning remotely in the field of technology, Google, Apple, and Microsoft still have enormous home offices in Mountain View, Cupertino, and Redmond, with comparable satellite offices around the globe. Even smaller firms like 37Signals, who make their friendliness to remote workers a point of pride, still maintain an office in Chicago. Imagine K12 and Y Combinator both call themselves “startup incubators” and both have physical offices and host events in the same physical location.
This isn’t to say incubation is impossible without copresence. My own talent has been incubated immensely in the relationships I’ve made on my blog with people I’ve never met. It’s just that to say that it isn’t ideal, that those relationships and my talent would have been incubated more quickly had we been in the same room more often.