Inspiring Technology Startups
In New Albany, a technology incubator has become the axis upon which a culture of innovation revolves, enabling new ideas and new talent to flourish. The result is an environment that not only supports startups, but also is attracting some of the top technology organizations in the region. Ultimately, the effort is expected to create a cross-pollination of ideas among big and small enterprises to fuel new discoveries and commercial applications. In fact, this has already begun to happen.
In 2011, the city of New Albany launched Innovate New Albany, a new business incubator located within the New Albany International Business Park. Eight thousand square feet were dedicated to create a hub for technology startups and entrepreneurial activities. The New Albany Company subsidized the lease rate for the space for three years in order to attract new companies and entrepreneurs. Due to its success, in 2012 the city launched Suites@8000, 7,000 square feet of additional space that enables incubator firms to continue to grow their businesses while continuing to benefit from the entrepreneurial environment.
The incubator goes well beyond the shared services typically provided to startups. As a result of partnerships with Rev1 Ventures, The New Albany Company, the Ohio Small Business DevelopmentCenter,AEP and WOW! Business Services, formerly Bluemile, the incubator was fully leased six months after opening, exceeding the city’s projections by a year. Today, Innovate New Albany houses 25 companies in offices, cubicles and as virtual tenants. These companies have added 47 jobs to the city’s workforce. FourInnovate New Albany tenants graduated to the Suites and another startup moved to office space elsewhere in the city.
One of the characteristics that distinguishes Innovate New Albany from others throughout the region is that it is home to a high percentage of technology firms – the critical ingredient often cited by researchers as the key to spurring innovation. In fact, over 70% of the tenants are information technology, technology products and accessories or technology-based support service firms. As a result, many of the larger companies based in New Albany have turned to the more nimble and opportunistic startups to identify solutions to their own technology issues.
Fostering a Robust Exchange of Ideas and Resources
Another facet of the city’s efforts to build an innovation pipeline is its partnership with Rev1 Ventures, one of the top five technology incubators in the United States. The result was the creation of TechStart New Albany, a resource that fosters a robust exchange of ideas and sparks communication, collaboration, innovation and, ultimately, investment to facilitate growth.
The partnership provides a local technology advisor that coordinates a range of services, including financing support, investment capital assistance, collaborations with research universities and institutions, business coaching and mentoring.
Since it launched, TechStart New Albany has provided capital from seed funds and angel investors to 51 New Albany-based companies. New Albany-based companies benefitted from more than $458,000 in TechGenesis and Pre-Seed Funds, approximately $310,000 in Ohio TechAngel Funds and other sidecar investments and over $1 million in grants and debt financing.
Beyond financial support, TechStart’s Mentor & Advisor Network helps to identify experienced business people to play leadership roles in Innovate New Albany startups. Advisors provide strategic assistance to companies with high-impact potential that are being positioned to raise capital. With experience in the same vertical, mentors offer more tactical assistance. Rev1 Ventures also has found experienced investors and entrepreneurs to serve on the boards of New Albany startups. Both efforts enable startups to go beyond their typical bootstrap model and to achieve their full potential with the depth of experience, capabilities and financial support of veteran business people.
Connecting Startups to Customers and Experts
Rev1 Ventures’ First Connect effort introduces local startups to potential customers that also are subject matter experts to assist in improving the product or service. The return on investment for experts is early access to new innovations and talent as well as exposure to new markets or products for their businesses.
Rev1 Ventures’ Expert Network provides professional support, including pro bono legal, accounting, human resources, marketing and sales support as well as CFO and CEO in residence services. The expert network has contributed more than $1.8 million in pro bono professional services to promising startups.
Through TechStart Essentials, Rev1 Ventures offers monthly boot camps that cover each critical phase of a business’ development, from elevator pitches and management teams to legal issues and financial projections.
Accessing State-of-the-Art Networks
Another unique feature of New Albany’s incubator is access to New Albany Net, one of the country’s most robust and affordable fiber optic networks. New Albany Net is the result of a public-private partnership between the city, AEP and WOW Business, formerly Bluemile, a carrier neutral fiber optic network solutions provider. Access to more than 200 carriers along with greater bandwidth, custom redundancy and savings of up to 70% have attracted small businesses as well as Fortune 500 companies, including Nationwide, TJ Maxx and Discover Financial.
In the past year, Innovate New Albany has held 66 events attended by more than 1,300 people. The Ohio Small Business Development Center partnered with the city to make Innovate New Albany one of its 39 regional hubs for classes and seminars ranging from private equity funding and product commercialization to strategic planning and marketing. Last year, the SBDC presented more than 30 training sessions at the incubator. Incubator businesses also have conducted workshops for their colleagues on everything from interactive marketing to doing in business in China. The topics are drawing employees from both large and small businesses. A newer partnership with OHManufacturing, a division of the Ohio Manufacturers Association, provides additional educational resources, including workshops on leadership excellence and engineering and manufacturing innovation.
Through its blog, Innovate New Albany, the city’s incubator provides hundreds of posts each year on the latest trends in technology and innovation, incubator companies and business development strategies and tactics.