January 11, 2013

Incubator could help start-up firms survive their infancy

Charles Oliver
charlesoliver@daltoncitizen.com

— Entrepreneurs and business innovation built Dalton, and it remains a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity, according to Georgia Tech researchers.

But on Thursday those researchers conditionally recommended that Dalton create a business incubator, a program or facility that provides services to start-up businesses.

Researchers from Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute have spent several months studying Dalton’s economy and talking to entrepreneurs, businesses and political leaders and Dalton State College students.

“Eighty percent of the entrepreneurs we talk to said they would be interested in taking part in an incubator, either as a mentor or as a user,” Georgia Tech’s Erin Rosintoski said.

Rosintoski briefed members of the Archway Committee and other local business and political leaders at the Mack Gaston Community Center on Thursday. The Archway Partnership is a University of Georgia program that helps local communities develop a vision for their future and find the tools they need to implement that vision. The local Archway Committee asked the institute to perform the study.

Rosintoski said there are several approaches to creating an incubator. The most well known is creating a building that provides office space and other services. Some local communities have also created “virtual incubators” that provide services but not physical space. The idea, Rosintoski said, is to help new firms through their first years.

Rosintoski said 87 percent of firms that have completed an incubator program are still doing business.

Several neighboring communities, including Chattanooga, have incubators.

If Dalton area leaders decide they want to create an incubator, they would have to decide what kind of incubator they want, what services to offer, and what businesses to target, Rosintoski said.

Melissa Lu, the local Archway professional, said committee members will gather information to help answer those questions.

Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce President Brian Anderson said the local business community is interested in an incubator.

“This is a business function, so we as an organization will be working with them,” Anderson said. “But Archway has the ability to look at things from a broader perspective, not just business. And it has the ability to tap into University of Georgia resources. Archway won’t be making the decision on whether to create an incubator, but it will be helping us as a community make that decision.”

Whitfield County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Babb said the county government would likely not be taking the lead on any incubator.

“The commissioners have their sights on recruitment and jobs,” Babb said. “Right now, we have plans. We are working on the Carbondale Business Park and trying to get companies down there. We are interested (in an incubator), but right now we are just interested observers. When it come to contributions, we have finite resources. And right now, we have all we can handle.”