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Frontline: Incubators Help Startups to Grow and Succeed

Q1 2016
Gravitate, an entrepreneurial center in downtown Des Moines, provides
a sense of “community.”
Gravitate, an entrepreneurial center in downtown Des Moines, provides a sense of “community.”
Startup fever is exploding across America, as a slow-growth economy, corporate job cutbacks, and the work ethos and expectations of the burgeoning millennial generation reshape the business landscape. Cities, states, universities, and private interests are all scrambling to provide these lean startups with petri dishes in the form of incubators and other programs that help them succeed, keep them happy — and begin to derive economic development benefits out of the relationships.

Interestingly, many of the incubators that have opened to meet the needs of startups are situated in places not traditionally associated with entrepreneurial fervor. While it’s no surprise to see incubator spaces and small-company networking centers thriving in tech centers such as Silicon Valley; Austin, Texas; and the Research Triangle of North Carolina, the latest generation of incubator fever is taking root in places such as Des Moines; Kansas City; Gainesville, Fla.; and Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Startup Incubators

The latest incubator spaces can be found in places not traditionally associated with entrepreneurs or tech enterprises.
  1. Gravitate, Des Moines, IA

    Gravitate, an entrepreneurial center in downtown Des Moines, provides a sense of “community.”
  2. Workiva, Ames, IA

    Workiva based in Ames, Iowa, swears by the importance of a place like Gravitate, which the company has sponsored
  3. Start Garden, Grand Rapids, MI

    A four-year-old startup funding organization.
  4. C2FO, Kansas City, KS

    A financial-technology company, has begun offering free office space and other support services to up-and-coming companies in the area as an important node in an emerging technology scene known as “Silicon Prairie.”
  5. Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL

    The Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship at Florida State University offers the Executive Training Class. The five-month experience equips executives with business-growth skills and leadership training.
Entrepreneurial Centers
In the capital of Iowa, for example, Geoff Wood opened Gravitate in an old bank building in 2014, hoping to establish “an entrepreneurial center of gravity in downtown Des Moines.” Gravitate offers 15 office spaces beginning at $450 a month and “memberships” to sole practitioners beginning at $150 a month.

“The biggest productivity-limiting factor for working by yourself is loneliness,” Wood explains. “So memberships are for people who work remotely for companies in, say, California, who otherwise would be working in isolated fashion in their basements or in coffee houses. They can come into Gravitate and talk about new Apple keynote [presentations] and Iowa State basketball games, and it gives them a chance to be part of a physical Des Moines community versus people on the other end of a computer.”

Matt Rizai, CEO of business-software company Workiva based in nearby Ames, Iowa, swears by the importance of a place like Gravitate, which his company has sponsored. “Every corner of the world has lots of smart and ambitious people,” he says. “With incubation, you get experience that you wouldn’t get otherwise, and places like Des Moines don’t become so unlikely.”

Similar dynamics are at work at 40 Pearl, the headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich., of Start Garden, a four-year-old startup funding organization that also has clustered in an old downtown bank building. The $15 million fund, emphasizing startups that “build things and get them into markets around the globe,” also offers space for fledgling entrepreneurs as well as start-up–centric coaching and workshops on topics ranging from pitch development to how to build equity-compensation structures for employees.

In Kansas City, C2FO, a financial-technology company, has begun offering free office space and other support services to up-and-coming companies in the area as an important node in an emerging technology scene known as “Silicon Prairie.” The company recently doubled the size of its headquarters and decided to use the extra room as incubator space.

Sometimes incubation occurs in the minds of entrepreneurs as much as in a physical space, and that’s why there’s a proliferation of programs such as the Executive Training Class at the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship at Florida State University. The five-month experience equips executives with business-growth skills and leadership training. “It was one of the best programs I have ever attended,” says Kim Miller, owner of Ink Link Marketing, a startup based in Miami Lakes, Fla. “My business has more than doubled since I attended it.”
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