When two different organizations seek to help the same group of people, it can sometimes be difficult for the community to tell the difference between them.
While the Cleveland Bradley Business Incubator and the Tennessee Small Business Development Center both assist business owners from offices located on property owned by Cleveland State Community College, both help in different ways.
Hurley Buff, executive director of the Cleveland Bradley Business Incubator, said its goal is to provide a place where business owners can rent space for less than they might elsewhere, and learn what it takes to run a business in a very hands-on way.
“Cleveland State as a whole has become kind of a one-stop shop because there is so much for entrepreneurs,” Buff said.
While the TSBDC offers workshops, private consultations and other services to people navigating the process of owning a business, the incubator offers something else: location and community.
Though separate from the college itself, the incubator leases both its original building and the Cleveland Bradley Innovation Center building constructed in 2011 from the college. The newest building, one housing “green” businesses, was built on land owned by Cleveland State with money from grants the incubator received. The college leases the buildings to the incubator for $1 a year, Buff said.
Otherwise, he said, the business incubator runs like a business in its own right — carefully budgeting the income it receives from the rent tenants pay. Grants, like some received from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office, have funded special projects like constructing the most recent building.
The incubator currently houses 41 small businesses in its two facilities, Buff said.
Cheryl Barker, an incubator tenant and representative to the board of directors, said the TSBDC helps business owners figure out where they want their businesses to go, and the incubator is a place where they can choose to go.
“They provide kind of a front end to the plan,” she said.
David Hudson, director of the TSBDC, said the biggest difference between his office and the business incubator is that the incubator serves as a physical location for new businesses. When someone takes part in workshops or consults with the staff about their business concerns, they visit from elsewhere.
Though the TSBDC offers educational workshops for business owners, the incubator has also begun offering its own workshops just for its tenants with funds from this summer’s USDA grant.
Dana Teasley, a tenant and the project manager for the initiative, said it is a way to further ensure the success of businesses there by helping them learn skills to help increase their profits.
Buff said he hopes to help businesses succeed by assisting them through the first years with lower-than-average rent costs and advice as an added bonus. He described the incubator as wanting to “nurture” new businesses so they can grow.
Generally, a business will stay in the incubator for four years before it “graduates” to another location. During that time, business owners reap the benefits of being close to other business owners who know what each other are going though.
New business owners face “threats from every side,” he said, and incubator tenants can learn from each other in the process of battling those threats.
He said he measured businesses’ successes in terms of longevity and that 87 percent of the incubator’s former tenants have been around for five years or more.
“Many have weathered the big recession in 2008 and 2009 on their own,” Buff said. “That’s how I measure it.”
He said former tenants who have succeeded in business are often eager to stop by and give advice to businesses just starting for the first time. In fact, some of the upcoming educational workshops for current tenants are set to be taught by former ones.
While the types of people setting up shop in the incubator vary in age, Teasley said most tenants she knew were in their late 30s and early 40s, people wanting to “be their own boss” after having gained experience working for other businesses.
Businesses in the incubator must be for-profit ones that are either new or entering into the Cleveland market for the first time. If a business has rented space elsewhere before, the business must still be in its first year of operation.
Tenants pay rent at a rate that is in line with how long they have been in business, and rent varies based on whether a business needs office or manufacturing space. There is often a waiting list for new tenants wanting to rent space, Buff said.
He also stressed that, whatever a business sells, the incubator’s goal is to see it last.
“Our mission is to help small business and create jobs,” he said.
For more information about the Cleveland Bradley Business Incubator, call 478-6476 or visit www.cbbi.net.