Incubator under new ownership: Aim is to return center to its entrepreneurial mission

Scott Olson
August 29, 2005
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Any small-business incubator can offer tenants Internet service, fax machines and conference rooms. But what about the convenience of on-site oil changes or the stress relief of a pinball machine?

For Scott Meyers, new owner of the revamped Indianapolis Enterprise Center, the extra incentives are just a small part of his overall plan to make the neareast-side facility more attractive to fledgling entrepreneurs.

Meyers, 36, bought the former A&P grocery warehouse in May. He declined to disclose the purchase price but said he has plowed $90,000 into renovating the 70-year-old building at 55 S. State Ave.

Now he wants to return the incubator to the mission it started with in 1993. In recent years, he said, the facility had become just an office park to its 48 tenants, straying from the services intended to help emerging companies prosper and eventually move on.

He is hopeful his investment will help boost the incubator's stature within the small-business community.

"We found there is nothing else in the city like this," Meyers said. "There's no space out there for the [people] coming out of the garage or the basement, if they don't have some sort of high-tech business."

Universities and corporations may salivate over those types of ventures, but Meyers wants to appeal to the sort of clientele that includes Keith Payne, owner of Affordable Building Supplies LLC. He's been in business three years and recently moved his two-employee operation to the incubator to be nearer other entrepreneurs.

"The fire burns best when the coals are close," Payne said. "Concepts need nurturing."

Amenities abound

Indianapolis Enterprise Center provides monthly networking sessions in which business owners can discuss their challenges and offer advice to colleagues. Business seminars also are in the works. Regions Bank will present a course on outsourcing human resources, and Meyers said Indiana Business College might bring some classes to the site.

He bought a new copy machine for tenants to share and offers them two conference rooms and an auditorium that seats 70. Many of the rooms feature new furnishings, paint and carpet, and the lobby area has been remodeled.

High-speed Internet access is available, and a library of business books has been added. Half Price Books, whose distribution center is in the basement, is donating some of the texts.

Fresh landscaping and flowers greet tenants and visitors on the outside. A pinball machine livens up the communal break room, and $22.95 oil changes are available from an acquaintance of Meyers' who runs an oil-changing business.

Tenants who may have been unsuccessful in obtaining financing from a bank also can tap Meyers' own microloan fund for amounts between $5,000 and $50,000.

Even the name of the incubator is different. Meyers changed the moniker from the Entrepreneur Business Center upon buying it from John Loudermilk, who sold after less than three years of ownership.

Loudermilk, former CEO of locally based Jet Credit Union, is being sued by the financial institution amid accusations of conversion, unjust enrichment and breaching his fiduciary responsibility.

Since buying the site, Meyers has joined the National Business Incubation Association, a not-forprofit in Athens, Ohio, and is following its model for operating an incubator. He also has visited with many in the business community, including Jeb Conrad, executive director of the Indy Partnership's Indianapolis Economic Development division.

At first blush, Conrad said he is impressed with the direction Meyers is taking the incubator and will refer companies there, when appropriate.

"We always encourage redevelopment and re-use," Conrad said. "He's got a pretty unique facility there and is breathing some life back into it."

Meyers also met with Steve Beck, president and CEO of the Indiana Venture Center. The venture center is among those courting high-tech companies but could send other prospects to the Enterprise Center, Meyers said.

The three-story incubator can accommodate 14 additional tenants, or more if Meyers renovates the vacant second floor used for years as storage.

Space as compact as 125 square feet starts at $195 a month and includes utilities and custodial services. Mini-suites run $600 a month. Month-to-month leases are available to allow tenants flexibility when they're ready to move on.

Two warehouses totaling 50,000 square feet also are available after the departure last year of the center's largest occupant, Bosma Industries for the Blind. The not-for-profit moved to a larger location on the northwest side.

No plan to purchase

Meyers himself is an entrepreneur who has experience rehabbing properties.

He quit his sales job five years ago after stints at the former Ameritech Corp. and local office of New Jersey-based Lucent Technologies and entered the apartment industry. He has since shed most of the 400 units he developed, except for the 72-unit Brigadier Apartments on the former Fort Benjamin Harrison grounds, to focus on the incubator.

The shift was more happenstance than vision, though. Meyers, a University of Michigan graduate whose job with Ameritech brought him to Indianapolis, was searching for space for his apartment development business when he came upon the center.

His interest as a tenant switched to ownership upon learning the property was on the market. Instead of a 10,000-square-foot office, he walked away with a 200,000-square-foot enterprise.

Said Meyers: "I wish I would have had something like this available to me when I started [as an entrepreneur] five years ago."

The incubator was in operation then, but he didn't know about it. Now Meyers is determined to make as many entrepreneurs aware of the center as he can.

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