When the historic Sperry's building in Downtown Port Huron was renovated to make way for Sperry's Moviehouse and the Second Floor Dinnerhouse, there was always a plan in place and funding set aside for a business incubator at the site, too.
That space became The Underground.
The Underground is St. Clair County region's first full-service business incubator, support center and innovation center. A soft opening was held in April, with a full grand opening scheduled for June.
The 5,000 square feet of office space, meeting rooms, coworking spaces and conference rooms is designed to give a variety of businesses and entrepreneurs the resources and space to grow their innovative ideas.
"The great thing about a business incubator is that this is a time in the economy where business owners need extra resources after the Great Recession," says Director of Business Attraction for the Economic Development Alliance (EDA) of St. Clair County Quentin Bishop. "They lost jobs and have been unemployed--and they have been retrained, and now they are faced with a new skill set, but no job to match that."
Enter the Underground.
"There has been a huge influx of entrepreneurs and innovators that have surfaced that have the time and energy to develop a positive reaction to the Great Recession," says Bishop. "And by enhancing those skill sets, forces are coming together."
Those who were displaced by the 2008 recession, or are merely looking for a launching space for their business ideas can use The Underground to flesh out their ideas.
Karen Palka is executive director of A Beautiful Me, a non-profit geared toward helping women and girls of all ages learn about self-esteem through workshops and other resources. She is one of the first to call The Underground home.
"We're a chamber member, which is an asset," says Palka. "I was talking to the team there about finding new office space, and I eventually met with Dan Casey at the EDA, and I felt like The Underground was a good fit for me."
Palka feels like The Underground was right for her and for A Beautiful Me, because it felt like a great place to foster her energy and creativity.
"If you surround yourself with like-minded, creative people, you will do better work."
The space also provides a state-of-the-art business support center, two quiet rooms, kitchen, print area, reception area, bathrooms and an elevator. There are also Thomas Edison quotes and décor like inspiring murals, which equal a cool industrial vibe.
"While the space has been totally transformed, there are parts of the space, such as the historic columns that remain and give the space historic charm and character," says Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County Marketing Manager Tina Frazer.
"In addition, the conference meeting rooms have beautiful solid wood tables built from the bowling alley at the former Viking Lanes in Marysville. The building is near and dear in the hearts of many residents. Both business meeting attendees and tenants seem enamored with the space."
Palka certainly was.
"I am a big fan of the underdog," she says. "If everyone is rooting for one team in the Super Bowl, I am going for the other. But I felt like the Sperry's building was such an underdog for so long, and now it's such an innovative space, in this cool movie house, that it is perfect to launch my project."
There are three key types of services The Underground will provide: incubation, co-working, and training.
With incubation, entrepreneurs can take advantage of using the physical space of offices and meeting rooms, or enroll virtually to help grow their businesses.
For a fee, those who enroll in the incubator program will have access to a plethora of amenities, including an advisory board that will support the entrepreneurs and businesses with targeted needs, and offer co-working spaces and enclosed offices, which are already full.
"The community has really started to rally around growing our region's entrepreneurs over the past few years," says Frazer. "This project is the icing on the cake for the next level of entrepreneurial support and commitment in our region."
Co-working space is available for those who may need an office on the go. Offices, cubicles and conference rooms are available for rent on a daily, monthly, or yearly basis. The conference rooms, one seating eight to 10 people and the other seating 10-12, are fully equipped with Smart TV's and the highest tier of business class Internet bandwidth.
Training programs help businesses and entrepreneurs with not only getting ideas off the ground, but also by assisting with funding, thanks to a large donation from The Community Capital Club, which granted $20,000 to the Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County, who also donated $5,000, in support of emerging business owners and entrepreneurs.
Four local entrepreneurs were recently awarded funds and accepted into The Underground incubation virtual program after an Emerge Fund pitch night--Smart Shelf, Cogent Hex, Gro-Hoop and Recor.
For more information on the Underground, visit http://www.startunderground.com/, or call 810-937-2003.
There will also be events and workshops to attend that support businesses. Visit https://clients.sbdcmichigan.org/center.aspx?center=39060&subloc=22 for dates.