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Small business incubator gives businesses jump start

Small business incubator gives businesses jump start

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CARBONDALE -- Alex Hutchinson hopes to turn his million-dollar idea into a thriving business, with the help of the Small Business Incubator at the SIU Economic Development Center.

Hutchinson, who has an auto-immune disease that prevents him from consuming gluten, has developed a mobile app that will use qr scan code technology to take a scanned recipe and provide substitute ingredients for anything with gluten in it.

Last year, the idea was still in the conceptual stage, but after the small business incubator helped the SIU senior connect with software developers and venture capitalists he is ready to roll out his product, waiting only for investors to "dot their i's and cross their t's."

"I wouldn't be halfway if it wasn't for this place," Hutchinson said of the incubator.

Hutchinson is part of Saluki Ventures, a new program connected with the Small Business Incubator, which provides office space, access to business experts, networking opportunities and mentoring and consulting relationships for business start-ups.

About 17 students have gone through the one-year-old Saluki Ventures program, which offers technical assistance for student companies or for students who need to develop a concept.

The traditional core program has operated since 1990, with 110 leases signed with start-up companies for office, lab and light industrial space.

"In many cases, you'll start out with a company that needs an office," Harfst said. "As they build and grow and hire employees, they might end up with 5, 6 or 7 offices. So it's really dependent on how the businesses grow."

Businesses are not intended to stay in the incubator, with tenants normally staying three to five years before leaving.

"We're not going to keep everybody in the incubator forever," Harfst said. "We want them to get out into the community."

The incubator program also provides clients the Saluki Innovation Lab, which is a shared equipment laboratory.

Digitalsmiths is a company that started out in the incubator, but moved well beyond the walls of the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center.

CEO Ben Weinberger began by building websites and then branched out into cataloging syndicated television shows and providing advertisers content appropriate for each show.

"Eventually, they landed in the Research Triangle, and TIVO bought them in January for $135 million," Harfst said.

Highline Ideas, which has been operating out of the center for the last year, is hoping to join the ranks of Digitalsmiths as a Small Business Incubator success story.

The company, which seeks to optimize businesses search engine placement, said the incubator has been a great place to get its feet wet.

"The incubator has done a lot for us," Lilly Cook, with Highline Ideas, said. "We've been able to have clients come in and do presentations, sometimes on the fly. Sometimes we can just grab a quick conference room and sit with them for a moment and having that space available is really helpful."

Harfst admits starting a business is not easy, which is why he said access to affordable office space and business experts that the incubator program offers is so vital.

"It's really hard to start and maintain a business, but especially if it's a larger-focused business or technology business it's really, really hard," Harfst said. "That's why you may see a high failure rate or you might not see many people starting businesses. It takes a lot of energy, a lot of will power and a little bit of luck thrown in to be able to do that."

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