VINTON–Annette Patterson has based her life’s work on the belief that if individuals, governments, businesses, and organizations join together to share their talents, knowledge, and resources, almost anything can be accomplished.
“Communities should work together and share their strengths,” said Patterson. “If everybody brings to the table what they have and can share, then everybody wins.”
That philosophy has led to the founding of the non-profit The Advancement Foundation (TAF), the opening of the Charity Cottage Thrift Store in downtown Vinton, and formation of the City Swim Team, to name a few of her projects.
Her latest venture is the launch of the Business Incubation Center on the upper level of the Health Department Building on Pollard Street in Vinton. The program has been dubbed the Hive (Home of Innovative and Visionary Entrepreneurs).
TAF will partner with the Town of Vinton, aspiring entrepreneurs, and community and business leaders from throughout the region who will act as advisors and mentors.
The ribbon-cutting which will formally launch the business incubator is scheduled for August 12 at 11 a.m. The public is invited to attend and tours will be given. And there is much to see.
The upper level of the building has been mostly vacant for several years and dismal in appearance. It was used for a time for a training program which TAF arranged with Rowe Furniture and then as a local base for Alexander Films during the filming of the movie, “Where are you, Bobby Browning?”
The town owns and maintains the building. A new roof was added a few years ago; air-conditioning was upgraded when Alexander Films leased the space.
Patterson and TAF have made dramatic changes to the second level of the building turning it into an elegant space with private offices, a computer lab, an impressive conference room, restrooms equipped with showers, a kitchen, a reception area, and an open co-worker space. It is virtually unrecognizable from its Rowe incarnation.
Patterson has enlisted the aid of individuals and groups to make improvements to modify the space, paint, install flooring, equip a computer lab, and donate or mark down furniture for the various offices.
The renovated space can accommodate six businesses with private offices and 25 in the co-working space. The entrepreneurs will pay rent to TAF, with all monies going back into TAF programs. Three businesses have leased private office space so far. Nineteen have already joined the Business Incubator program.
At this point Patterson said there are no particular criteria for businesses to be selected to participate in the program. TAF doesn’t want competing businesses, but ones that complement and possibly feed business to one another. They would also like to attract businesses which offer services Vinton is currently lacking.
There is an application process with paperwork to complete and an interview.
Currently no limit has been set for how long a business is considered “new” and can occupy the space. The goal is for the new businesses once they become viable, is to remain in Vinton with TAF helping to facilitate their move into other office space in town.
Right now entrepreneurs are being accepted on a first come-first served basis. TAF evaluates the skill-sets, marketing opportunities, and needs of the new business owners and helps them develop a personalized business plan.
TAF says that “the goal of business incubators is to produce healthy firms that create jobs, strengthen the economy, commercialize new technologies, and revitalize communities.”
They do that by “nurturing young firms during the start-up period when they are most vulnerable.” Research shows the critical time for a new business is the first six months to a year, due to lack of planning, inexperience, and insufficient funding or excessive debt.
TAF hopes to offer support during that crucial time period.
In April, Town Council took action to execute a lease agreement with TAF for the space charging $1 in rent per year. The town will also pay for the utilities—electricity, water, and Internet services.
Patterson told council members that her goal was to enlist 30 mentor/advisors and launch five businesses with a 60 percent success rate in first year. TAF has applied for grants to help get the program get off the ground, and has asked the business community to be partners financially. They hope to be self-sustaining within 18 to 24 months.
While eventually TAF plans to hire a Business Center director, for now Patterson, her staff, and AmeriCorps workers will facilitate the program.
The strategy is to develop an environment where entrepreneurs can receive guidance and assistance in starting up or expanding a young business–either part-time or full-time–without the typical start-up expenses usually involved. They will be supported and helped to realize that the problems they encounter in establishing a new venture are typical to everyone in their situation.
The advantages of the Business Incubation Program for new businesses are low overhead and a furnished private or shared office space, office and clerical assistance, a physical mailing address, and access to high speed Internet and phone systems.
They will have access to office equipment, conference rooms and kitchen, and to business professionals and advisors through the Skill-based Volunteer Bank computer database, coaching from business resource partners, and free targeted workshops on business topics.
Patterson said the advice and networking is “priceless” to fledgling businesses.
Some of the workshops to be offered include computer classes through Patch X, Financial Peace from the McLeod Foundation, Legal Tips from attorney Peter Edwards, Evaluating Strengths and Weaknesses with Sarah Jones from No B.S. Biz, Strategic Planning by Allison Burbar of Advance Auto, Business accounting with Todd Creasy of Neely’s Accounting, and Developing Marketing Plans and branding with Sam Steidle from the CoLab.
Seasoned and successful entrepreneurs to be showcased include Dale Turner from Magnets USA, developer Ed Walker, and Laura Godfrey from Polished.
Town Council hopes that the business incubator will draw visitors downtown as they frequent the new businesses and attend classes. Their location across Pollard Street from the new library will be especially advantageous as the library has “strong business features that will encourage collaboration with TAF.”
TAF plans to work with the Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce. Chamber president Todd Creasy has volunteered to serve as an advisor to the new entrepreneurs.
“I’m happy to be involved with the business incubator,” said Creasy. “I’m hopeful these aspiring business entrepreneurs can bring some excitement to the Vinton area. These participants have an opportunity to learn from some of the mistakes their mentors found out the hard way. Hopefully with this knowledge and a little luck, they can use this to help create a business model that will help them create a better life for themselves, their families, and their community.”
While Patterson wants to help the new business owners, she also wants to help Vinton. She envisions hosting meetings at the center, renting out the conference space, even working with local restaurants to provide lunches for the events.
One of her favorite words is “synergy” and her purpose is to create as much synergy as possible with the Business Incubation program and the other stakeholders in the process.
Anyone interested in the Business Incubation Center can call 345-1292 for information and tours of the facility.