Santa Fe College Entrepreneur Incubator Graduates First Incubating Companies

Santa Fe College’s entrepreneur incubator recently graduated two companies and is planning an open house Jan. 21 to introduce the next round of budding entrepreneurs to its facilities and resources.

Citizen’s Co-op, a community-owned natural foods grocery store, joined Santa Fe’s CIED incubator (Center for Innovation and Economic Development) in April 2009. By November, the co-op had more than doubled its membership, from 200 to nearly 500, and hosted two community fund-raisers. They have raised $70,000 in seed capital and expect to open a storefront in 2010.They recently moved their offices from the CIED to a more long-term, nonprofit space.

“We’re very excited about the rapid success of Citizen’s Co-op,” said Dug Jones, Santa Fe’s VP for economic development. “It’s gratifying to have had a role, even a small one, in something as valuable as this is going to be for our community.”

Co-founder Gretchen McIntyre said Citizens Co-op initially joined the CIED for access to meeting space for their board of directors. They also needed a place to meet with potential investors and other organizations as they began wider collaborations across the community.

“Having a business address, a mailbox, and just being able to refer to Santa Fe’s CIED center as the place where we were developing our business gave us more legitimacy and value to the people in the community,” McIntyre said.

In addition, the co-op needed assistance in spreading its message. The team of experienced business resources at the CIED helped them envision how to do that.

“They helped us think of the bigger picture that we might not have thought of on our own,” she explained. “We got a nice diversity of perspectives on our business plan and start up.”

The co-op plans to continue cooperating with the CIED in the development of a community kitchen incubator, which is a restaurant-quality, licensed cooking space that people can rent by the hour to cook for large groups or use to prepare value-added food products such as bottled salad dressing.

“The CIED incubator isn’t so much about moving in there and having other people run your business for you,” McIntyre said. “It’s about being a peer, being part of a group where everyone is working together and inspiring each other and breaking into new markets and expanding our visions for our own businesses.”    

Boost to local business and innovation community

The CIED is Santa Fe College’s face in the local business and innovation community.

“Supporting an incubator is one of the college’s main efforts to have a positive impact on the economy here in our area,” explained Jones.   

The CIED opened in a refurbished space in July 2007 at 530 W. University Ave., completed renovations in December, and by February 2009 accepted the first incubating companies.

Incubating resident businesses – there are up to four at any given time – pay $285 a month. In return, they are allocated their own office space, including a networked desktop computer, which they have access to 24/7; access to the CIED’s entrepreneurship workshops; advice sessions with professionals in accounting, human resources, finance, and business planning and marketing; use of CIED technology such as a high speed copier and scanner; and use of the CIED’s meeting and classroom facilities.   

Associate businesses, of which there are eight, pay $90 a month for everything above except for committed office space. They have access to the shared areas of the CIED during normal working hours.

At this time, there is space for two new businesses to join as residents and three as associates.

“It’s a very diverse group of businesses, but there’s a little bit of commonality in the numbers of them that are green-focused, but not necessarily green companies,” Jones said. “Two solar companies and Campus Climate Solutions, which does greenhouse gas accounting. Even the ones that aren’t directly focused on green business, the personalities of the people involved are very oriented toward sustainability.”

In addition to use of the CIED’s facilities, incubating companies are expected to enroll in the entrepreneur series offered by Santa Fe’s Continuing Education program (tuition is covered in the monthly fee), which includes workshops offered by subject area experts in topics such as accounting, recordkeeping and marketing. Incubator members also meet weekly with their peers to hash over their accomplishments and challenges. This group activity is led and facilitated by professionals at the CIED.

 “The access to expertise is perhaps the most valuable component for our companies,” said Jones.

Expertise to help avert a crisis

Applied Food Technologies, a biotech company that adresses issues in the food industry, recently graduated from the CIED and moved into space at the University of Florida’s Sid Martin Biotech Incubator at Progress Park in Alachua.

Initially, CEO LeeAnn Applewhite joined the CIED to gain access to its facilities for trainings, meetings and conferences. She established her company in 2004, with technical facilities in Blacksburg, Va., so hers was not a start up. Upon joining the CIED, she planned to focus on growing the consulting and grant writing arm of her company, while her partner in Virginia directed their laboratory near Virginia Tech.

But about a month after joining the CIED, Applewhite’s Virginia business partner died suddenly of heart failure at age 45. Faced with a crisis, she turned to Jones, who rallied the CIED’s resources to assist her in envisioning a new direction for her company. In a short time, she decided the best course of action was to open a local lab. She worked closely with Jones and Bill Dorman, of Startup Fusion, to create a package outlining her new business plan and to tweak her application for the Sid Martin incubator.

“Everyone helped,” Applewhite said. “I could not have done that without the assistance of CIED.”

While she initially came to the CIED for the facility, which she said was great, the expertise of the staff turned out to be far more valuable to her company.

CIED open house scheduled for Jan. 21

In addition to the entrepreneur incubator, the CIED rents meeting space, coordinates the college’s Continuing Education program, and develops workforce and corporate training as needed by area businesses. The CIED is also home to the Employ Florida Banner Center for Construction.

The CIED’s next open house, Starting Up or Stepping Out, is scheduled for 7:30 to 10 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 21. Anyone interested in starting a business or aligning an existing business with the CIED is welcome to attend.  Enjoy breakfast and networking from 7:30 to 8 a.m., and then from 8 to 10 a.m., learn about the 10 most common business mistakes to avoid when starting a business.

A full description of services and CIED incubator applications are available online at www.sfcollege.edu/cied or, for more information, call Dug Jones at 352-395-5269 or Business Support Specialist Mary Short at 352-395-5892.

CONTACTS

  • Dug Jones at 352-359-6287 (cell) or dug.jones@sfcollege.edu
  • Julie Garrett, for help facilitating your story, 352-870-2924 (cell)
  • High res images of McIntyre and Applewhite are available. Please email julie.garrett@sfcollege.edu.