New business incubator is made for minorities

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Black business owner Bob Logan must feel like a game-show contestant who could walk away with a windfall, if he plays his cards right.

Logan, 39, is one of four entrepreneurs chosen by the Indiana Business Diversity Council as inaugural tenants of its unusual new incubator, which caters solely to minority-owned businesses. Organizers are unaware of anything similar in Indianapolis.

In addition to paying below-market-rate rent, the fledgling companies will have access to the corporate executives who frequent the IBDC building in the 2100 block of North Meridian Street–something they hope will prove invaluable.

"One of the reasons we wanted to get into the incubator is because it's linked to most of the businesses we are targeting," said Logan, who launched Wireless Business Solutions LLC in January 2004. "That's unbelievable, because I know who comes through their offices every day."

Indeed, tenants will be in a position to catch the eyes of nearly 30 executives who serve as council directors, said Reggie Henderson, the IBDC's executive director.

"A lot of corporations come through the door here," Henderson said. "It's a lot of exposure for a smaller firm."

The list includes such local heavyweights as Eli Lilly and Co. and Roche Diagnostics Corp. and Columbus' Cummins Inc. The Indianapolis Airport Authority, which is overseeing construction of the $1 billion midfield terminal, also is a member.

The IBDC changed its name from the Indianapolis Regional Minority Supplier Development Council after Henderson succeeded longtime leader Donald Jones in October 2004. The organization's mission, however, has remained the same during its 34-year existence: help minority business owners get corporate contracts.

Any assistance the IBDC can lend is especially critical, given the fact that 58 percent of black-owned businesses fail in the first year, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. The failure rate is higher than for any other ethnic group.

The incubator welcomes all minorities. Two of the business owners are black, one is Asian, and the other is Indian. IBDC board members selected the four after choosing to interview 14 candidates from the applicant pool. Besides Logan, they are:

Robert Taylor, Taylor'd Consulting Services

Ryan Hou, LHP Software LLC

Duncan Alney, Firebelly Marketing Inc.

The incubator is housed on the second level of the IBDC building, which also has space carved out for an existing affiliation with the local chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners.

The four offices total more than 1,000 square feet and vary in size to accommodate one to five staff members. Occupants can stay up to two years. Monthly rent is less than $15.50 per square foot, Henderson said.

The incubator features a conference room and an auditorium that holds about 100. Interns may be available through the IUPUI Solution Center, if the companies agree to share a percentage of the cost. Henderson hopes students might provide marketing, technology or accounting assistance, for example.

During a July 21 dedication, the facility is set to be named the Garcia Vela Incubator, after GM Construction Inc. partners Charles Garcia and Daniel Vela. The Indianapolis construction manager and contractor donated materials and labor to build out the offices.

Garcia has been a board member 16 years and is confident the collaboration will benefit small businesses.

"I've been involved in these types of activities in the community, and unfortunately, a lot of them have not worked," he said. "The key is to provide the foundation for growth."

Incubators became trendy in the early 1980s and currently number 1,500 throughout the country, according to the National Business Incubation Association in Athens, Ohio. Twenty-one are in Indiana, including three in Indianapolis.

The organization is in the process of completing a study that will pinpoint how many of them target minority- or female-owned businesses, said NBIA CEO Dinah Adkins.

"It is definitely a small segment of the population, but they do exist in many different cities," she said. "Most often, they're companies with one to three people."

About 90 percent of the nation's enterprise centers are operating simply to create wealth and jobs in a community, Adkins said. Most of the for-profit endeavors–where venture capitalists tried to nurture businesses toward an initial public offering–died during the dot-com bust.

Logan has lofty but realistic expectations for Wireless Business Solutions, which is moving from Tacoma Avenue. After his 24-month stay is finished, he hopes to have grown annual revenue from $150,000 to roughly $1 million. That would give him the resources to buy a building near downtown and increase his sales force from two to at least 10.

They could sell services for the four major wireless carriers nationally, because Logan is certified through the National Minority Supplier Development Council, of which IBDC is an affiliate.

Said Logan: "We're looking to grow substantially."

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