Business incubators offer much to county

June 25, 2005|By P. Chris Marschner

Tamela Baker's article regarding the redevelopment of the armory on North Potomac Street as a training site for ABC affiliated contractors and as a business incubator suggests that there may be too little understanding as to what a business incubator actually is.

I draw this conclusion because no reference was made as to what business development services would be offered by the management to aid the development of early stage firms.

As the director of the Technical Innovation Center at Hagerstown Community College and the current president of the Maryland Business Incubation Association, which comprises the 16 economic development and university-based business incubators throughout Maryland, I take keen interest in projects that promote themselves as business incubators.

Under the auspices of the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA), whose membership is more than 1,450 incubator professionals around the world, I am part of a multi-state group of incubator directors who will be evaluating accreditation standards for business incubation programs. I am also working with a local group to promote entrepreneurship and to coordinate and cross-market business development services among the major nonprofit providers of business assistance.


Historically, while many "business incubators" began as urban-renewal projects to transform blighted areas by providing low rents as an incentive to eliminate boarded-up buildings, today's business incubators provide substantial value to the firms they assist and the communities in which they are located by serving as the hub for entrepreneurial activities.

Onsite incubator management provides the client firm with management consultation services, facilitates connections between the entrepreneurs and available business development resources, monitors the progress of the client firm and ultimately assists the firm to find suitable commercial space outside the incubator. The physical development of an office complex does not alone make a business incubator. In fact, some incubators have no facilities at all. Without a program of value-added business development services, the new facility does not differentiate itself from simple commercial space.

To give the readers a local example, the Technical Innovation Center (TIC) focuses only on technology and manufacturing sectors. We have provided assistance to more than 50 resident technology start-ups who have created more than 200 jobs with an average salary of $35,000 per year - well above the median income for Washington County citizens.

One of our clients, who started with one employee, will be moving his employees this year to a brand new 30,000-square- foot facility in Washington County. We have also assisted hundreds of walk-in clients seeking business help free of charge. We often offer seminars to both the resident clients and the public at large. These seminars are always free to our incubating clients and some are free to the general public. Over the last three years, the TIC has acquired approximately $75,000 in funding to help defray legal, accounting and other product development costs for our clients and graduates.

We currently have funds for entrepreneurs in Washington County who need help developing Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant proposals. The TIC has developed a business resource center for the community's use where they can come to work on business plans, ask our MBA-trained staff business questions, view videos, access the Web on our broadband connection and obtain print and electronic media relating to business and management development. These services are available at no cost to the public.

If these services will be offered by these private incubator developers, we welcome the arrival of the city incubators and we encourage them to become part of the National and Maryland Business Incubation associations. I will be glad to offer any program development assistance if requested. For more information about business incubation, contact the National Business Incubation Association at or the Maryland Business Incubation Association at

P. Chris Marschner is director of the HCC Technical Innovation Center and president of the Maryland Business Incubation Association.

(Editor's note: Space limitations precluded a description of the services that will be offered to businesses at the Potomac Avenue incubator site.)

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