Nurturing Progess

Nurturing ProgressStarting a small business is a complex process but some entrepreneurs have big help on their side. Office facilities called “incubators” provide various resources and services to small business startups to help them succeed.

“An incubator gets its name from what we think of in the world of agriculture,” explained Peggy Geib, who is the assistant superintendent for Business Industry Services at Francis Tuttle and works with incubators and entrepreneurs. “Incubators provide an environment that nurtures and helps the egg to grow. A business incubator would be very much the same, only instead of eggs that are in the incubator, these would be companies.”

According to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, there are 49 certified incubators in the state, working with nearly 200 businesses. The newest incubator will open next summer in the Edmond area. It will be located at the Francis Tuttle Business Innovation Center on the northeast corner of I-35 and Covell Road.

Geib, who is part of the development team, said the 10,000- squarefoot facility will be comprised of technology, service-based and light manufacturing companies. It will offer office space as well as training, mentoring and assistance in areas such as business planning, marketing, human resources, sales and bookkeeping. “One of the really nice parts about business incubators is that they are made up of numerous entrepreneurs and as a result of all of them being collocated, they have the opportunity to build on each others’ strengths.”

Companies and business owners will have the chance to formally apply for a spot there. Geib said her team would be looking for candidates who have a clear vision, who are proactive, persistent and are able to present their business plan to the incubator director and the board.

Dale Hester is an inventor and a business owner who is in the initial stages of developing his business. He invented the Wonderfunnel™—a funnel that facilitates the transferring of large amounts of fluids between containers. Hester said he will apply for an office space at the Edmond incubator. He is hoping to get advice on how to place his product into retail stores. “I made the product but that’s just the easy part. Then you have to finance it; you have to market it,” he said. “It’s just easy to underestimate how much time and money you will spend on something.”

The rent that business startups pay to office at an incubator is less than what it would cost them to rent an office or a shop somewhere else. In addition, tenants of a certified incubator facility may be exempt from state tax liability on earned income for up to ten years, thanks to legislation that the state of Oklahoma passed.

Another characteristic of incubators that makes them appealing to small business startups is the success rate of the companies that take advantage of the services that incubators offer. Oklahoma Department of Commerce statistics show that companies that are part of an incubator are much more likely to stay in business during their first years and start creating jobs than companies without such support.

“Incubators are, in my opinion, a tremendous resource,” said Kevin Barber, a manufacturing consultant with the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, who is also co-owner of Monkey Island Shaved Ice. In his role as a consultant he works with inventors and he has witnessed the impact of the incubators on small businesses. “There is not a real good single stopping point for an entrepreneur who is trying to collect all the information they need in order to get started—other than perhaps the incubators—for the purpose of taking care of all that,” he said. Barber pointed out that incubator tenants receive direct guidance from the incubator director, who partners with many companies and can help startups with networking and taking advantage of the numerous incentives.

“That hands-on attention is just key to the small businesses’ success,” said Lori Broyles, Business and Entrepreneurial Services Coordinator at Francis Tuttle Technology Center. She added that the relationship between incubators and small business owners is also beneficial for the state, because when new companies are able to stand on their own, they employ more people and contribute to the state’s economy.

According to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, 84 percent of incubator graduates stay in their communities and continue to provide a return to their investors. Currently incubator companies employee over 1,500 people in the state.

“I definitely believe that incubators are here to stay,” said Broyles. Her advice to entrepreneurs who are considering launching a new business is simply to seek advice. “It takes more than passion; it takes commitment. It is a 24/7 business, so you really have to be committed to living, eating, breathing that business.” Broyles said she will be a consultant at the upcoming Edmond incubator and is looking forward to the opportunity to help entrepreneurs and small businesses in the area.

For more information, visit www.francistuttle.edu or www.okbia.org.

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