Business incubators (BIs) have become a common tool for promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in many parts of the world, Brazil being no exception. Several studies have been carried out to evaluate the performance and impact of BIs around the country, although the peripheral northeast region has been a less popular subject for critical analysis. This research surveyed 35 BIs (out of a total of 36) and 93 incubated firms (out of a total of 320). In addition, 14 interviews were carried out to assess the incubation process in the northeastern region. Our analysis points to a number of serious shortcomings in management, finance and mediation, which may cast doubt on the effectiveness of the BIs. This paper highlights a number of structural problems which may be common to other peripheral regions and suggests a series of measures that could be taken, in order to produce a better regional incubation process.