Since last summer, the incubator has been attempting to help its tenants in a new way by hosting free workshops to teach them business-related skills.
The effort was funded by a $6,576 Rural Business Enterprise Grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office, which was intended to be used for the workshops as well as for the incubator’s marketing efforts.
Executive Director Hurley Buff said the incubator’s tenants had long expressed the desire to be taught more business-related skills, but the funding was not there to offer them for free. Since the grant was awarded, tenants have had the opportunity to attend free workshops to learn about a variety of topics.
“We’ve had wonderful success with it,” Buff said.
Recent classes have included a workshop on how to use search engine optimization to help with marketing one’s business online and one that specifically focused on using Google AdWords to assist with online marketing.
One that will take place on April 23 will teach intermediate-level users how to use a computer software program for accounting called Quickbooks.
Dana Teasley, a veteran tenant and the project manager for the incubator’s workshop initiative, said the other tenants, particularly the newest ones, have benefitted from getting to learn from more experienced business owners.
The classes have been taught by veteran tenants as well as some of the incubator’s graduates. For example, the Quickbooks workshop will be taught by Scott Goble of current tenant Sound Accounting, and the online marketing classes were taught by Kirk Bates of former tenant 428 Marketing.
The business incubator provides a place where new small business owners can rent office or manufacturing space at rates that are in line with their profits.
Located adjacent to Cleveland State Community College, the incubator functions as a separate entity from the college while renting a building from the college and occupying a building constructed using money from a previous USDA grant on land owned by the college.
Businesses renting space there must be for-profit ones that are either new or entering into the Cleveland market for the first time. The business must still be within its first year of operation if it has already rented space elsewhere.
Buff said a business generally “graduates” from the incubator after four years, and some of the workshops’ teachers have been graduates like Bates.
The workshops themselves have so far gone ”really, really well,” Buff said.
The teachers, who volunteer their time, have often stayed late answering questions and offered tenants the opportunity to contact with any further questions, he added.
Teasley said being a small business owner can be very time-consuming and overwhelming at first, and it helps to be able to learn business skills from those who are experienced in those areas.
While the incubator’s workshops have been fully funded through the end of the current fiscal year, Buff said the grant money will be gone by June 14.
With the future of being able to host the workshops being uncertain, he said all tenants will be encouraged to receive help from another organization for small businesses that is also located next to Cleveland State.
Buff said the incubator will soon be “partnering with” the Tennessee Small Business Development Center office located almost next door as it has done in the past.