30 Mar Grant winners hope to cultivate job-creating tech businesses
Business incubators are nothing new to Wisconsin – the state has dozens of them operating – but several of them are using a new round of state grants to inject fresh life into a tried-and-true concept.
The Wisconsin Department of Commerce has awarded 26 grants totaling more than $750,000 from the state’s Community Based Economic Development (CBED) and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) programs. Many of the grant winners are existing business incubators that are hoping to attract and foster new technology-based businesses around the state.
One incubator that already has built a good track record in that department is the Genesis Development Corp. in south Madison, which opened three years ago and now houses 25 small businesses in its 70,000-square-foot facility. Genesis runs the incubator for Madison-based Common Wealth Development Corp., which received its own grant of $10,000 to study the feasibility of starting an arts incubator in Madison.
Several tech-based companies call the Genesis facility home, including Softwave Pumps LLC, a manufacturer of high-purity stainless steel pumps for the biotech and pharmaceutical industries; Sentinel Technologies, a computer services company; and TeachingBooks.net, a resource Web site for children’s literature.
Genesis received a $15,000 CBED grant that it plans to use to meet operating expenses, according to Facility Director Richard Slone. Slone said the facility is at about 78 percent occupancy and needs to hit about 85 percent to be cashflow positive. Even with the slight shortfall, the Genesis incubator is generating some major benefits already.
“One of the big reasons we’re here is job creation,” Slone said. “We have over 150 people working in this building right now, and probably half of those are new jobs – talk about really adding to the value of the economy, not only of the neighborhood but the city. It really makes a difference.”
Slone said sharing resources helps people stick to the business of doing business rather than worrying about things like getting the phone hooked up.
“Our tenants love the space; it’s really been a huge benefit for them to be here,” said Slone, a former entrepreneur who works for Common Wealth. “They get to share all thee resources that ordinarily they’d have to buy themselves.” In addition to business advice from Slone, those resources include a multimedia conference room, photocopier, T-1 and wireless Internet access, a loading dock and a kitchen.”
“It’s like a neighborhood,” Slone added. “There’s a huge amount of camaraderie. Some of them are doing business with each other. They get advice from each other. It just works out really, really well.”
Another grant winner with big plans is Wausau Business Incubator Inc., which is using its $45,000 grant to equip a new mixed-use incubator for which the city already has received $2.5 million in federal and city government funding. Kristen Fish, business development director for the city of Wausau, said that the city already has a 70,000-square-foot facility, but rather than renovate an aging facility, the city decided to move ahead with a new space.
Hopes were to build a 46,000-square-foot building, but current funds don’t allow for a structure that large. Organizers now are trying to decide whether to seek more grants or go ahead with construction with what they have in hand.
Fish said the city is hoping to attract a variety of users, including light manufacturing, health care, and environmental engineering.
“We’d also like to look at how we could tap into the agriculture arena for high-tech applications for agricultural processes – things that make sense for our area,” Fish said. “We’re not trying to be Madison.”