Incubators are all about meeting needs.
When Allison McClintick of Flight Lead
moved back to Lansing, she needed to connect with the community and find out where her business fit in.
When Craig Tucker of Tucknologies
began to take on projects and acquire clients, he needed a space that would improve his business and not break the bank.
When Carl Winans of Oceanvue
began his business, he needed to be able to connect with like-minded people and toss ideas around.
The Center for New Enterprise Opportunity in Lansing
, the first of its kind in the area, was born with the goal of identifying entrepreneurs and providing them with the resources they needed to be successful. And, as different as each businesses needs can be, their ideas of success can be just as different. But, according to Tom Stewart, founder of the NEO Center, "We are here to help their
vision of success."
The NEO Center now boasts its first group of graduates and among this group, each had different needs and different views of success. In turning to the NEO Center, each found their needs supported and met.
Allison McClintick had lived in Lansing for 12 years and was confident she would fall right into a support system when she moved back from San Diego. But, it seemed no one could help. Her company, Flight Lead, focuses on leadership training and support but treats it as a science and focuses on the human factor, a niche that was received in San Diego but hadn’t been breached in Lansing. "It was like starting over," she says. She was struggling with networking, marketing, and just figuring out where she belonged among Lansing’s business infrastructure.
When she met Stewart and Paul Jaques (a NEO Center board member), "They legitimized me as a business." They made her a part of the community as if she had always belonged. Today, Flight Lead, though it has grown out of the NEO Center and gained serious momentum, still utilizes its services. "They are always accessible, and always passionate.”
Today, Allison has a radio show, a book coming out and multiple projects in the works. Even with so many projects, her success came, she believes, when she came to a realization about her business. "I realized I am totally mobile,” she says, “and I attribute it all to the center.” Without utilizing the space NEO allowed her, she would have never realized she didn’t actually need
the space. “I believe success is realizing what you need and getting the tools to help you get it.”
Tucknologies, an IT company specializing in software development and web design, already had some projects in the works and others lined up when they came to the NEO Center. Craig Tucker, co-founder and Creative and Marketing Director, already had some experience starting a business and at the time his greatest need was space; affordable space. “It’s a top notch facility,” says Craig, “In order to find the same type of space within the same atmosphere (elsewhere) you’d spend a hell of a lot more money and as a start- up, that can kill you.”
The affordable and flexible lease options are an important feature of an incubator and according to Tom, “If you’re going to fail, we want you to fail fast, and cheap. And come back.”
To Craig, the image the space can offer is another important aspect. For a new business, having a physical location can really help your reputation. Having a mailing address instead of a post office box, and somewhere to meet clients besides a coffee shop, can make a huge difference in how you are viewed in the business world.
Craig knew his time at the Center was over when they were able to stand on their own two feet. This “meant that we had positive cash flow, significant growth, and the forecast was positive; that allowed us to make the decision to move on.” Logistics also made a difference and they were simply too big to continue working out of the center.
Now, Tucknologies is continuing to grow and stay busy; they are developing multiple apps and software for a variety of companies and have many “top secret” projects in the works. Of his time at the center, Craig says, “The experience was great. It’s a great place to start
Like, Craig, Carl Winans with Oceanvue already had some experience with starting a business when he came to the NEO Center. As a web design company that focuses on helping others develop new ideas and make them happen, he needed to be around other people. Carl needed a space to connect with other, like-minded, entrepreneurs.
As a company that values innovation, being able to bounce ideas off of entrepreneurs and really connect was an asset he valued that the NEO could offer. “Awareness of what else is going on and what others are doing can spark some really great ideas,” he says. “It’s important, especially in Lansing, to get entrepreneurs to connect.”
While Carl could have stayed in the program and continued to learn, connect and grow, his business led him to Detroit where most of his clients were, but he sees the importance of NEO and places like it. “They are popping up all over,” like in Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor and Detroit. “Lansing is entering into an era where we are going to need to create our own jobs, and NEO gives entrepreneurs the resources it needs to help them do just that.”
What they Want
As entrepreneurs become more and more important to growing communities, giving them what they need becomes more important to incubators like the NEO Center. The NEO though, is unique compared to many other incubators, in the way it structures its program.
According to Tom, “Entrepreneurs want what they want when they want it. They have a challenge and they want the resources to overcome that challenge at that moment.” With that particular caveat in mind, the NEO Center offers a modular program, as opposed to a linear one like many of their counterparts. Tom knows most businesses don’t have time to work through a 15 week program that may be teaching things they already know. The NEO gives entrepreneurs the options to choose the areas they need help with and then they find the resources to help them. “If our board can’t cover it, we find someone who can,” says Tom.
Success, for incubators, entrepreneurs, and their communities, is when each feels it is helping the other in return. Though each has its own idea of success, each knows when they have found it. Realizing what that vision is, and reaching it, is what Tom, and everyone at the NEO Center, is striving to do; “What we are trying to do is reduce risk and accelerate success. That’s what an incubator, at its core, is trying to do.”
Allison Monroe is a freelance writer for Capital Gains.
Photos © Dave Trumpie
is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.