The Ottumwa Courier

February 9, 2013

Business incubator continues its growth

Project should help bring more business to area

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Starting a business can be a confusing, risky and lonely experience. Having people care about your success can make the challenges a little easier.

“You don’t need to go it alone,” said Kelly Gale, a coordinator in the Regional Economic Advancement Department at Indian Hills Community College.

The upcoming construction of a “business incubator” means those accepted into the program will have low overhead for rent, a certain amount of attention from the public and mentors who can help them through the rough spots of starting a business.

On Monday, the IHCC board of trustees is expected to approve the design of the incubator building.

“We’re looking at breaking ground in the spring, and then, a nine-month build, depending on weather, of course,” Gale said.

“We’re hopefully going to have a light manufacturing emphasis, [but] it’s mixed use.”

There are certain businesses that would make more sense going in elsewhere, Gale said. The incubator isn’t really for a retail shop, nor would it make a good restaurant.

There’s plenty of room out in the proposed building, Gale said. While the initial goal is for four businesses, the place can be divided up into more.

But the incubator is more than a building. Yes, the place will have a maintenance person, someone will pay the light bill and there’s a conference room users can book.

But it’s more about people — the right people.

Time will be donated by different groups specializing in mentoring entrepreneurs as they start or expand a businesses. For example, retired executives have been through the ringer, so to speak, and, acting as mentors, can share the mistakes they made, or the processes they learned the hard way.

They may also be able to talk about which investor groups are willing to consider partnering with an entrepreneur. And they can be honest with the small business owner, talking to them about how to improve professional behavior, attention from buyers and presentation.

For more specific questions, there will also be access to the experts. Accountants or attorneys may share their time doing a presentation on how to incorporate, or, perhaps, a class on which people need to enter into some sort of limited liability arrangement.

Those small business owners who have a location but need advice like that or a mentor — or a conference room — can become affiliates of the incubator without having to move in. For example, an entrepreneur starting a part-time, home-based business might need advice on marketing, or they might just need a conference room so they can meet with potential clients or investors somewhere other than a kitchen table.

All of these benefits may result in more “business” than can fit even in a 10,000-square foot space. But the people with ideas have not started submitting requests for space just yet.

“Right now, we’re just trying to increase the awareness people have about what the incubator offers,” Gale said. “It’s not just cheap rent. You have access to all these people who want to see you succeed.”