Written by Kevin Volz.
Don’t call it an office. The spaces home to Ohio’s incubators are more akin to beehives – honeycombs of workspaces that are fostering the ideas of the state’s brightest entrepreneurs. Walking down the hallway of an incubator, you can practically feel the creativity. Passing workspace after workspace, you are floored by the innovation and the variation, with everything from solar energy startups to companies helping humans regrow their bones. This is not an office, this is an idea generation machine.
A business incubator is a dedicated space where startups can develop from a novel idea into a successful business. These startups receive important coaching along the way, like assistance with marketing plans and intellectual property legal counsel. Ohio is home to nearly a dozen incubators across the state, including: YBI, Akron Global Business Accelerator, BioEnterprise, Magnet, Ohio University Innovation Center, Glide, LaunchPad, BrainTree, TechColumbus, The Entrepreneurs Center and HCDC. Each of these incubators will be individually profiled over the coming months as part of the Ohio’s Incubators series.
Ohio Third Frontier provides funding to the state’s incubator programs, allowing them to offer reduced rental rates to startups, lowering business costs for these new companies. The funding is also used for coaching services and grants for the startups. Incubators are typically home to many different budding companies, all at different points in their development as early stage startups.
“We know that no two companies in our incubator are the same and what works for one may not work for another,” said Bridget Doherty, marketing/communications director of Cincinnati, Ohio’s HCDC incubation program. “These companies come to us with their business plans, and we give them the space and professional help they need to start their company and achieve their goals.”
Whereas accelerators accept classes of startups once a year with a hard start and end date, incubator programs focus on companies individually and allow them to stay as long as they need to, so long as they are reaching certain benchmarks in their business plan. Once a company grows to the point of needing more space or an independent space, they leave the incubator and set out on their own.
This was the case for Roost, a digital marketing startup that spent about six months at LaunchPad, an incubator in Toledo, Ohio. When it came time for the company to leave the physical LaunchPad space, they took the important business lessons they learned with them – something Roost co-founder Tim Varner says is invaluable.
“Spending that time in the incubator allowed us to figure out who we were,” said Varner. “They helped us determine where we fit in our market and how to become a company that was ready to rapidly grow. We needed to feel out what people wanted, and being in the incubator gave us the time to get it right.”
Those leading Ohio’s incubator programs all agree – the work being done in Ohio rivals incubators across the country. After spending years starting her own businesses in Los Angeles, Molly Reams Thompson, director of LaunchPad, couldn’t be more impressed by the community here.
“The incubator ecosystem here is so strong and supportive,” said Reams Thompson. “There is a real sense of purpose, like everyone has something to prove. We want to show the world that the entrepreneur with the next great idea is right here in Ohio.”