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Published: Friday, 10/5/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

University of Toledo minority business center grows

UT triples space availableat Scott Park incubator

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Shanda Gore Shanda Gore
DANIEL MILLER Enlarge

The University of Toledo has tripled the available space at its Minority Business Development Center as it works to help more fledgling enterprises get off the ground.

Situated at UT’s Scott Park campus, the center is an incubator aimed at helping cultivate local minority-owned companies.

Right now, the incubator has nine members and seven affiliates. The additional space in the faculty annex gives the center enough room to be host to as many as 30 businesses.

“We’ve had a number of growth areas but we’ve seen the opportunity for the center to do even more things to help the businesses and the local economy, which has always been our goal,” said Shanda Gore, assistant vice president for equity and diversity at the University of Toledo and the center's director.

UT started the incubator in 2009. Erik Johnson, program manager, said the area’s minority community had been calling for a place to help develop minority-owned businesses.

“The University of Toledo stepped up, heard that cry, and put up something that could stir or create economic growth within the community,” Mr. Johnson said.

The center caters to businesses that are beyond the concept phase but perhaps not quite at the point of being able to move off the kitchen table and into their own offices.

"The real benefit is having other early-stage businesses around you that have some synergy with you as far as where they're at in their business cycle, and having access to business professionals that can advise you on how to increase your sales and/or reduce your costs to become a better, more efficient operation,” Mr. Johnson said.

Businesses rent office space at market rates and have access to things such as a conference room and training facilities. Perhaps more importantly, tenants also get counseling and advice from center staff and access to UT graduate students and interns.

“What we find is businesses, when you’re a one-man or one-woman shop, you may be focused on day-to-day operations, but you may not have that strategic plan on where do I want to be one year or three years or five years from now,” Ms. Gore said.

By having students help with setting up Web sites, developing marketing strategies, and making sales calls, the owners are free to focus more on the overall direction their company will take. That arrangement also works in favor of the students, who are able to gain experience in their chosen fields. Though there is adequate space for up to 30 businesses, Ms. Gore doesn’t expect the center will reach that number quickly. Applicants face a rigorous admissions process that requires a solid business plan, proof of working capital, and an intent to stay in the Toledo community. 

“We are truly looking for a good match. We’re not real estate and we’re not landlords. This is program you agree to be a part of. We celebrate when you have positive successes, and if you have challenges we want to help you get out of those,” Ms. Gore said.

The expectation is that companies will spend three to four years in the incubator before graduating out of it. So far, three companies have made the leap, Ms. Gore said. The incubator is also open to nonprofits. The incubator is home to the Josh Project. Headed by Wanda Butts, the Josh Project teaches children water safety and how to swim. It was named one of the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2012, earning a $50,000 grant.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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