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Manchester Entrepreneurship Center
The city of Manchester lacks a hub for its entrepreneurial ecosystem where startup founders and small businesspeople can launch and incubate businesses, host events and classes, and provide support and mentorship for fledgling entrepreneurs. Developing a “center of gravity” for the local ecosystem – a commonly used term for a center of this type – would provide a “front door” and one-stop support facility for Manchester area entrepreneurs and significantly enhance the evolution of the local startup ecosystem.
The Center could also include a “makerspace” component to provide equipment, software, and space for tinkerers and other production-based hobbyists, artisans, and entrepreneurs to prototype and test new devices and products or just have fun building new gizmos and projects. Ideally, an institutional partner would also be identified to provide on-site programming and support for local entrepreneurs.
Per local officials, a planning grant application to the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) is being considered to fund the development of a rural entrepreneurship center; a facility in Dubuque (the Creative Adventure Lab) would be used as the model to inform the project. The EDA grant could be leveraged to help fund the Entrepreneurial Center as envisioned in this placemaking plan. This grant could be combined with other opportunities to source planning and development funds, including grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development, city and county funding, private and philanthropic investments, and state of Iowa grants such as the Community Catalyst Building Remediation Program that assists communities with the redevelopment, rehabilitation or deconstruction of buildings to stimulate economic growth or reinvestment in the community. The maximum allowable grant under this program is $100,000.
Vacant or underutilized spaces in the downtown core would be consistent with the siting of many entrepreneurial facilities of this type. Local leaders and stakeholders will come together to explore the best model, function, program, uses, and location for the entrepreneurship center as they implement the concept.
Experts in the entrepreneurship field note that there is no inherent advantage to renting or owning the space for an entrepreneurial hub; it is mostly dependent on the building specs, flexibility of the owner to negotiate positive lease terms, or availability of a for-purchase site that meets the expectations and available resources of the entrepreneurship center leadership team.
When a site is secured, complementary programming should be developed to support the activation of the Entrepreneurial Center as a catalyst for economic development in the City of Manchester. One option would be to create a non-profit entity to receive monies to fund programming and staffing of the center. What this means is that the Manchester Entrepreneurship Center could be incorporated as a 501(c)3 entity with a board of directors to serve as the fiscal agent for funding and managing the center.
One key potential benefit of developing an entrepreneurial hub for Manchester is to co-locate multiple partners on site that would truly create a “one-stop shop” location for small business development in the community.
McClure reached out to representatives of the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Delaware County office, Manchester Center (a collaboration between the City of Manchester, Northeast Iowa Community College and Upper Iowa University), and University of Iowa Office of Outreach and Engagement to gauge their interest in co-locating their services at the proposed Manchester Entrepreneurship Center.
Each representative said they would be interested in participating in discussions related to the development of the Entrepreneurship Center – potentially, for example, serving on a task force – to determine whether co-location at the site makes sense for their organization. There are multiple requirements that would need to be satisfied related to space, access, technology, scheduling, and other factors that would determine whether these partners could secure approval for locating their personnel and services at the new Center.
The mistake many communities make when opening entrepreneurship centers, coworking spaces, small business incubators, makerspaces, or any combination thereof is believing that just providing the facility and equipment will be sufficient to stimulate enterprise development and cultivate a local entrepreneurial ecosystem. The reality is the building is just the beginning; there must be complementary services, events, classes, support systems, mentoring, and other ecosystem-building elements to truly maximize the potential of the Manchester Entrepreneurship Center to impact the local economy.
There are established models that Manchester could leverage to operationalize its entrepreneurship center. One model is called Forge, offered by Columbus, Ohio-based Pillar Technologies. Forge coworking spaces are located in Columbus, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Des Moines, and a recently opened affiliate in Jefferson, Iowa – the first rural Forge in the network. Forge connects its community spaces with a network of resources, connections, and tools. The Forge space is designed to foster creativity and collaboration and enable Pillar to support companies’ growth solutions in a customized environment.
In Jefferson, the Forge is just part of a larger coalition focused on bringing tech jobs to Greene County. In addition to launching the Forge, Pillar Technology will be creating a software development training program in collaboration with Greene County Community School District and local community colleges. Students that go through the program will enroll in fourth months of tuition-free software development training provided by Accenture designed to prepare rural area students for high-demand, software development jobs in Iowa.
At the official launch of the Jefferson Forge, Facebook also announced plans to provide student digital marketing scholarships for DMACC students. [Source]
Another proven model is Proximity, which is connected to over 400 coworking spaces in the U.S. and beyond. The Proximity Platform provides everything a community needs to manage their coworking space, including:
- Digital Door Access: The Proximity Open feature is a combination of hardware and software that allows coworking space members to open the facility’s doors through their mobile devices.
- Billing: Proximity bills members automatically through their payment of choice. Add-ons are available to members as upgrades.
- Conference Room Booking: Software enables coworking space managers to customize the rules for booking shared spaces by configuring time, rate, and access parameters globally or by membership level. A computer tablet mounted outside a conference room(s) can be programmed with an app that automatically displays upcoming bookings and whether the room is in use. Proximity Room View is another custom app that displays wifi logins, lets members add more time to bookings, and alerts them when their usage time is up.
- Proximity Wave: This feature can be displayed on a tabled by the front door to alert members to deliveries or visitors. It also allows guests to request a tour of the space.
- Internet control: Proximity is directly connected to the facility’s network hardware, enabling the space’s managers to restrict access and control speed and content based on membership level.
- Member and event listings: Proximity’s software enables members to create bios and update their profiles with relevant information to foster connections. The event manager feature clusters all event listings in one location.
Two additional benefits of Proximity are portability and the ability to integrate the platform with your brand and identity. Through the Proximity Network, members can access Proximity Guest Passes to travel to other Proximity coworking spaces up to three times a month for no extra charge. If desired, the Manchester Entrepreneurship Center brand and identity can be built into the Proximity platform so the center’s logo shows up in emails, billing statements, phone apps, etc.
The cost for the Proximity platform is a flat fee of $99 per month with no tiered pricing.
A so-called “ecosystem” for entrepreneurship is a pretty fuzzy concept but critical to understanding and improving a community’s capacity to start, scale, and sustain new companies. Essentially, an ecosystem is comprised by all the “stuff” that helps small businesses succeed. This stuff includes coworking facilities, incubation and acceleration programs, startup and growth capital, networking spaces and events, mentorship from established serial entrepreneurs, sustainable talent pipelines, business management training, and market-building support both internally and externally.
If a community can create a critical mass of “stuff,” then it can achieve “startup hub” status that not only enables local company “founders” to launch new businesses but attracts founders, capital, and attention from well beyond the community’s borders. Of course, reaching critical mass is extremely challenging – only a few select places have attained it. But that doesn’t mean that Manchester shouldn’t purposely begin planting seeds to nurture a more dynamic and competitive entrepreneurial ecosystem as soon as possible.
The effective design, development, funding, launch, and evolution of the Manchester Entrepreneurship Center will be a major catalyst for the expansion of the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. While there are local examples of successful startups and small businesses, stakeholders reported that Manchester’s small business climate and culture was still underdeveloped.
McClure believes that a powerful way to begin enhancing local capacity to support entrepreneurship, community cohesion, cooperation, collaboration, resource-sharing, and building of growth-support networks is through partnership with a Chattanooga, Tennessee-based firm called CO.STARTERS. McClure has worked with CO.STARTERS in multiple communities and seen how its programs can create local excitement and momentum behind new models for small business development. It should be noted that McClure has no financial interest in CO.STARTERS and benefits in no way from communities’ investments in their programs.
The results seen by communities that adopt the CO.STARTERS model have been impressive. Of companies that launch through the company’s signature cohort program, 73 percent are still in business after two years. Additional 2018 impacts of CO.STARTERS programming can be found here.
CO.STARTERS provides a suite of self-sustaining programs with extensive support resources to make it possible for any community to build their ecosystem and help entrepreneurs at any stage of business. The Cohort Program is the company’s best known offering. Through this program, a group of influential local leaders are trained to implement CO.STARTERS’ development system with a group of between ten to 12 existing and/or potential entrepreneurs. After the nine-week program, participating individuals will have clear paths to launch and grow their businesses. The beauty of the program is that its self-sustaining. Once local stakeholders are trained to teach the program, communities can launch additional cohorts at their own discretion.
Costs for programs vary. For the cohort program, the training session is $3000 with an annual subscription rate of $5,000 for ongoing access to the CO.STARTERS network and full suite of support programming and materials.