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The Job Interview: A small-business incubator is about to hatch

The Enterprise Center at Plymouth, a new business incubator, is scheduled to open October 1. It's a collaboration between Plymouth State University and the Grafton County Economic Development Council. 

Courtesy photo

The Enterprise Center at Plymouth, a new business incubator, is scheduled to open October 1. It's a collaboration between Plymouth State University and the Grafton County Economic Development Council. Courtesy photo

An idea a decade in the making will soon become a “one-stop shop for small businesses” that are turning their own ideas into reality, Michael Tentnowski, executive director of the Enterprise Center at Plymouth, or ECP, said.

The ECP, a business incubator for startups and new companies, will open to its tenants Oct. 1 and to the public Oct. 15. Tentnowski has come to this partnership of Plymouth State University and the Grafton County Economic Development Council with more than 20 years of experience in business incubation. He answered a few questions about the upcoming opening of the center’s building and the space that would house the incoming startups.

What prompted the Plymouth State University and Grafton Country Economic Development Council to partner on the ECP?

This was an idea that’s about 10 years in the making because incubators have a successful track record partnering with economic development agencies and universities.

What are the center’s goals as it gets off the ground in October?

The goal is threefold. One is to encourage entrepreneurship, the other from the Grafton County side in part is to create jobs for the region, and (third,) the Plymouth side is to create internships for students.

What sort of interest has there been from small-business owners in this space?

We probably have had, over the past seven months as the building has been rising . . . 35 businesses that have shown an interest. We have six that have committed to be in the center upon opening.

Because we are an enterprise center, we do incubation as well as acceleration. Incubation is pure start-up, where there’s a lot of hand-holding, if you will. So every aspect is covered, financial, managerial, marketing,
et cetera.

With acceleration . . . we have a couple of companies that have been in business for a bit and they’re looking to expand their reach.

When we’re fully built out, we’ll be able to house between 12 and 15 companies in house. To expand on that we also offer a virtual program where companies can associate with the services without being physically housed in the building.

What benefits does the center offer for small-business owners?

It’s again manyfold, where there’s opportunities to use student talent in internships and also as employees or work-studies. It’s opportunities to interact with the professorial expertise on campus as well, and then with me as the director . . . any aspect of their business, I’m there on site (to help).

What’s the trajectory for a business at the incubator?

The typical stay is 36 months, then they’re ready to go out in to the surrounding community. So 87 percent of businesses remain successful as defined as still in operation five years after graduating from an incubation program.

The failure rate (for startups) is nearly 80 percent, so that certainly reverses that whole trend by going through an incubator program.

Eighty-four percent (of startups) stay in the community in which they were incubated. It’s a very storied program that results in exactly what Grafton County and Plymouth State University want to do, which is to create entrepreneurship opportunities in the surrounding region.

With those companies staying in the region, obviously it’s jobs growth and wealth creation.

What kind of businesses will operate in the incubator?

We are a mixed-use facility. Our natural cluster that’s developing is primarily in software and services.

What should that interest in the center tell us about small business in this area?

I think the takeaway is that although it may not be obvious, there’s entrepreneurship activity happening throughout the county, and that this one facility acts as a gathering place for like-minded individuals, where they can get educational opportunities on business acumen and share ideas and resources.

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