Last week we discussed the first step of “Economic Gardening,” preparing your community for entrepreneurial success. Now lets focus on the next steps: planting the seeds and nurturing the sprouts.
One of the primary ways that a community can foster home-grown businesses is to offer a business incubator. Business incubators take many forms, the most famous being the tech incubators that came about in the 1990’s.
Two types of incubators that have shown extreme promise in smaller communities are retail incubators and community kitchens, also known as commercial kitchens.
A retail incubator is, in simple terms, a space where several smaller retail businesses share a storefront, and all the costs associated with keeping the shopdoors open (rent, staff, utilities). Community kitchens take many shapes and have many different missions, but the underlying idea is that it is a place where members of the community can prepare food without making the individual investment in costly food preperation equipment, often for an hourly fee.
There are many ways that an incubator can be tailored to meet your community’s needs. We will discuss in depth the two options mentioned above in future posts, but here is a good example of a retail incubator and here is an example of a community kitchen. The basic premise behind an incubator is to lower the barriers to entry for start ups while offering support services such as training and access to capital.
Also, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development has a micro-enterprise assistance program called the Virginia Enterprise Initiative (VEI). Micro-enterprise is defined as a business that has five or fewer employees and capital needs of less than $35,000. VEI supports programs that provide basic business skills, financial literacy, one-on-one counseling, access to capital and post-loan counseling.
We will continue to bring you information on nurturing entrepreneurship and encourage you to keep your eye on this space for part III.