Full incubator widens reach: Tech center to help non-tenants

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The “no vacancy” sign hanging at an Indiana University business incubator has prompted officials to launch a program in which startup companies can gain access to support services without renting space.

IU’s Emerging Technologies Center, on West 10th Street near the Central Canal, houses 25 companies in about 44,000 square feet of space. The center has been operating at full capacity the past two years and has a waiting list of four companies.

For those who can’t get into the incubator, or don’t really need the space, but want the accompanying resources, a new “affiliate” program offers an affordable alternative.

For $75 a month, clients gain entry to counselors from both the IUETC and Kelley School of Business, as well as to conference rooms and a mailing address within the center.

For the center’s directors, the move represents the first notable expansion to the original mission adopted nearly five years ago. Like most incubators, the IUETC provides entrepreneurs the nourishment to grow and ultimately leave the nest to function independently. The facility so far has “graduated” seven companies, said Mark Long, the center’s president and CEO.

“We were getting clients in the door and filling up the facility; that was our first goal,” he said. “Now the time is right to expand the outreach.”

The expansion includes providing consultation and advice on business strategies and marketing plans; access to IU resources; and contact with private, state and federal funding sources. All told, 16 staff advisers have the capacity to counsel up to 50 affiliate companies.

Targets are information-technology firms and service-based companies, rather than life sciences or research-dependent ventures that require laboratory space within the incubator.

Center leaders are just beginning to introduce the program and are seeking candidates. So far, Accurate Data Inc. is the lone participant.

The software provider for the medical industry is in the process of moving from Florida to Indianapolis, where the founder spent several years of his professional career.

Founded in 2004, Accurate Data is finishing development of software that helps physicians become compliant with health care privacy laws. It hopes to begin generating sales early next year.

Executives ultimately want to obtain space within the IEDC, but realize the advantages of the affiliate program, said Beverly Jinkins, Accurate Data’s chief financial officer.

“We want to network with progressive thinkers and get their technical support,” she said.

Companies need to complete an admissions application to qualify, much as they would if they were applying to become a tenant within the center. Candidates must qualify as a small business under U.S. Small Business Administration guidelines, be an Indiana-based company, and be involved in the research, development or manufacturing of technology-based products or services.

David Doyle, director of Indiana Angel-Net at the Indiana Venture Center, is a member of the IUETC advisory board. The Venture Center mentors promising startups as well, but doesn’t provide office space. Yet, it and the IUETC collaborate to assist young companies with their needs. The affiliate program is a natural progression to existing services, Doyle said.

“I think of this as a way to expand the reach and the effectiveness of the ETC,” he said, “and to do that in a way where even if a company is not physically located there, we can help them with a kind of connectivity and assistance so they can be successful.”

One of the largest advantages of the affiliate program is that entrepreneurs gain access to IU expertise. Specifically, Donald F. Kuratko, executive director of the university’s Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, visits the IUETC every Tuesday.

Based in Bloomington, the Johnson Center opened an office in 2005 at the IUETC. The space gives MBA students the chance to provide consulting services to the startups at the incubator.

Moreover, IUETC sponsors such as Baker & Daniels LLP can furnish legal advice to clients at a discounted rate, Long said. Affiliate clients also will have the opportunity to apply for interns.

The IUETC’s decision to offer these types of benefits to an expanded client roster follows what other incubators in the state already are providing. Those in Fort Wayne and Anderson, for instance, are among the early adapters, Long said.

An incubator in Crown Point is nearing capacity, partly due to luring companies from Chicago, and will face the same dilemma serving clients that confronted Long, said Bruce Kidd, IEDC director of small business and entrepreneurship.

“When the [IUETC] was built, I don’t think anyone knew how long it would take to fill it,” he said. “But now we have to turn away good companies. What Mark is doing is smart.”

The IUETC opened in 2003 and has accumulated an impressive array of tenants, including CS Keys, EndGenitor Technologies Inc. and ImmuneWorks. Last month, BioCrossroads’ Indiana Seed Fund I invested $300,000 in locally based ImmuneWorks to help further its development of a possible treatment for the idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis lung disease.

To spark even more research, Long is preparing to convert dry labs to the wet variety that feature a fume hood, sinks and a distilled water source to accommodate the four companies on the waiting list. And another bank of mailboxes will be installed to give affiliates what Long referred to as a “virtual presence.”

The mailboxes are significant, Doyle said, but more than anything else, the new program underscores the importance of “accessing resources.”

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