Business is booming at the Business and Entrepreneurial Services Center in Detroit Lakes--which is precisely the point.
The BES offers a variety of services for businesses and individuals, including start-up help, training and a mentor program. One of the most lively areas of the BES is the business incubator, which is fully occupied--with a waiting list.
The incubator opened in mid-October 2009 and filled by December. It has nine offices and one industrial space, each home to a new or nearly new business that needs a jump start, according to BES Director Beth Pridday.
"It has been a very, very successful model. After the second quarter, it's been even more impressive. We've had job creation and we have definitely had some growth. We measure growth a little less traditionally--it's about growing a business to a stable point,” she says.
For a monthly fee, incubator tenants receive office space, equipment and shared service. The incubator, along with BES, is located on the campus of Minnesota State (M State) Community and Technical College-Detroit Lakes. The relationship is one that perfectly suits the collaborative focus of the BES.
"Five years ago, M State surveyed community leaders in the Detroit Lakes area. Resoundingly, they responded that the area needed more business development opportunities,” says Dr. Cris Valdez, M State Provost. "We responded with the BES, which ties in post-secondary opportunities with real world training, infrastructural necessities and real entrepreneurial experiences to mentor, counsel and support new and existing entrepreneurs.”
Incubator tenants usually stay for about three years, though they have a term up to five years, says Pridday. "If someone is ready to go prior to that, we'll be there to cheer them on,” she says -- exactly in keeping with the BES mission.
Growing Regional Connections
BES services outside of the incubator include business courses, custom training for entrepreneurs, a speakers series and a library. BES also has helped foster a growing regional network of dozens of professional individuals and organizations who are ready to help with expertise and experience.
"In my year as director, well over 500 people have come to me in search of ideas or wanting to ask questions,” Pridday says. "We have to have all of those connections. We see WCI as part of that collaboration and partnership of resources too.”
WCI was a critical early funder of the BES, which is about three years old. WCI Vice President of Business Development Dale Umlauf serves on the BES advisory board. Pridday says that the BES also refers people to WCI for a variety of services, such as micro loans or gap funding. "It's been a great relationship and we still use them as a resource.”
Helping Build The Clayground
Pridday cites Becky Sletto and her business, The Clayground, a Paint Your Own Pottery Studio, as a "model” incubator client who has taken advantage of every BES opportunity. Sletto, in turn, says that "I don't think I would be in business without that space. It is so convenient and offers so many financial advantages. Also, there is so much support, being part of the BES system--you always have people to bounce ideas off of.”
People can take classes at The Clayground, or they might book pottery-painting parties. Sletto also takes pottery to sites such as libraries, offices or nursing homes in the area.
She says BES provides ready-made opportunities such as a class on social networking tools that she's put to use. Sletto says the support of the whole BES team and the college "has just been phenomenal. Without it, I don't think a lot of us would be where we are.”
That is exactly what Pridday likes to hear. She points out that the timing of the BES was right, with the growth of M State and degree programs that lend themselves to self employment. "Detroit Lakes in general has experienced a ton of growth in small businesses--self-startup sort of things. We forget about that kind of thing that is happening right in front of us.”
Her plan is to keep it happening as the BES expands, with another incubator in Frazee in the works. "We are busy. We're really excited about the fact that we're going to grow.”