Where the Innovators Are

 Where the Innovators Are

The Entrepreneurs Center continues to nurture new businesses in the Miami Valley

It’s not that far from Dayton to Silicon Valley, especially if you travel via The Entrepreneurs Center.

Dayton is home to one of the most innovative business incubators in the country where you can go from idea to implementation with the support of an experienced team that provides advice, structure and access to capital, all under one roof. For early stage tech entrepreneurs, The Entrepreneurs Center (TEC) offers affordable rent, shared resources, mentoring and technology infrastructure and a complete program of business nurturing.

“The biggest obstacle many of our clients face is that they are scientists, not marketers,” says Barbara Hayde, president of TEC. “The most successful generally come from a sales/marketing background.” For those that don’t have that skill, the Center’s total continuum of care, which includes mentoring from experienced professionals, will address their most acute challenges.

“Without The Entrepreneurs Center, I never would have had a board of directors or a focused business plan. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. TEC surrounded me with the right people and the right coaching,” says Christian Prince, CEO and chief technology officer for Acclimate Supply Chain Solutions and a TEC tenant since 2004. “Recently, we needed money for product development, so I met with Barbara and 15 minutes later I was working with someone who could sign a contract to get us funding.”

One of the primary goals of TEC is to reduce the risk and increase the chances for success for its clients. Hayde likes to say, “It starts with a conversation.” She means that literally. The first stop every entrepreneurial hopeful makes is to the seat on the other side of Hayde’s desk.

“We start where they are,” says Hayde. The entrepreneur will tell her the story of their business, and Hayde will pepper the conversation with questions designed to evaluate whether the client can articulate a path from the original idea to a viable business.

As an Ohio Edison Technology Incubator, one of only 11 in the state, TEC is unique in the area. It also partners with Ohio’s Third Frontier Entrepreneurial Signature Program, which provides advice, services and capital to help companies commercialize promising new products.

While TEC does specialize in technology-oriented entrepreneurs, it also serves entrepreneurs and small businesses throughout the Miami Valley that want access to the business incubation and support it provides.

After Hayde meets with the entrepreneur, the next step will be to pair the client with either Jim Hill, the business incubation manger for TEC, or Pat Newcombe, director of the Small Business Development Center, whose office is on the second floor of TEC.

From there, Hill or Newcombe will ask more questions, listen, assess the viability of the business and suggest next steps. Their goal is to help the entrepreneur put a structure around their innovative idea, so it can be scaled and sustained as a profitable business.

TEC offers both on-site and off-site business incubation, based upon the nature of the business, as well as pre-incubation services. Hill or Newcombe may also connect the client with one of TEC’s partners in the Entrepreneurial Development Network, a group of organizations that collaborate on business development initiatives designed to grow businesses within the Dayton region.

For entrepreneurs not quite ready to become tenants at TEC, the Affiliate Program and the Business Lab offer vital assistance to early stagers looking for support. Affiliates receive training, seminars, mentors, business advisors, as well as assistance with financial planning and access to capital. Business Lab clients have access to a complete workstation, shared administrative/office services and access to meeting and conference rooms.

Greg Smith, president of Energy Optimizers USA, started as an affiliate with little more than a great idea and a vague notion of how to run a business. With the help of TEC, Energy Optimizers became the 2011 Dayton Business Journal’s Rookie Business of the Year with revenues of over $6 million in 2012 and topped the list of Dayton Business Journal’s fastest growing businesses in the region for 2013.

“The Entrepreneurs Center has been a great sounding board. They always provide a fresh perspective on how to get where I want to go, and challenge me constantly, says Smith. “Where I think I’ll be in three, six or twelve months from now changes almost daily with all the new opportunities coming my way. TEC is helping me prioritize and stay focused.”

The argument could be made that innovation and entrepreneurship is embedded in Dayton’s DNA. In fact, Dayton was Silicon Valley before Silicon Valley was “Silicon Valley.” Dayton’s history as a home for innovation stretches back almost 150 years. In 1870, Dayton ranked fifth in the nation in the number of patents granted, and by 1890, ranked first. Names like Wright, Kettering and Patterson are enduring reminders of our heritage.

The life of a creative entrepreneur can be lonely, and with TEC available for support, a nascent business owner doesn’t need to feel isolated and alone. Nurturing is a big part of Hayde’s job. “Being nurtured empowers you to make decisions and take risks because you know someone is there with a safety net,” she says.

“Everything we do at TEC is about nurturing entrepreneurs,” Hayde said in an address to The University of Dayton School of Business Annual Entrepreneurship Dinner. “From our Small Business Development Center, to our free Morning Mentoring program, to our volunteer Know-How-Network of 150 professional mentors, to our commercialization software that helps entrepreneurs advance to profit, everything we do … is about nurturing small business.”

With support available from TEC and the University of Dayton, Wright State, Sinclair, The Dayton Development Coalition, Aileron, Wright Patterson AFB, and others, Dayton can compete on a national level in terms of opportunity for start-ups.

For an energetic, coachable, early stage entrepreneur, Dayton is a great place to be, but be prepared to listen to the words of wisdom offered by your mentors. That’s one of the first things Hayde says to new clients. “Don’t come here if you think you know everything. I want you to tell me when things are going right, and I want you to tell me when things are going wrong. You must realize you need help, and you must be willing to accept help.”

So, you don’t need to load up the van and head out to the valley built upon silicon to start your business. The Miami Valley has all you need right here.