Anyone with even a tangential interest in the startup world will not be surprised to hear that the number of U.S. business incubators has skyrocketed over the past decade. But what is their purpose, and how does one stand out amid what’s become an increasingly crowded industry?
These are the kinds of questions that the executive team at Oklahoma City’s Moore Norman Technology Center’s Business Development Center routinely encounters. Founded in 1972, Moore Norman Technology Center (MNTC) offers career and technical education options for people ranging from high school students to adults.
By providing vocational and technical training, the school has long played a critical role in the greater Oklahoma City area, especially for adults hoping to advance their education and start their own businesses. It’s these same teachers who staff the school’s Business Development Center (BDC), where motivated students are given the opportunity to transform their startup ideas into thriving, profitable businesses.
Awarded the 2013 Oklahoma Incubator of the Year award, the BDC opened in 2005, when construction was completed on MNTC’s South Penn campus. At its core, it functions much like business incubators across the U.S., according to BDC coordinator Greg Kieson.
“The Business Development Center is a multi-faceted program designed to help small businesses, existing small businesses, people who want to want to get involved in business, and people who have unique ideas,” he said. “The BDC provides them with resources that will help them be successful in business, generate jobs, and help the local economy.”
It’s this kind of mission that helps the BDC distinguish itself in what’s become an increasingly crowded space. According to the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA), the number of business incubators has skyrocketed over the past three decades, increasing from only 12 in 1980 to more than 1,250 in 2012.
Though they have become controversial as their ranks have grown, business incubators can have a profound economic impact: According to NBIA estimates, every $1 in public money invested in incubators generates $30 in local tax revenue alone. Additionally, more than three quarters of incubator graduates remain in their local communities.
Participating entrepreneurs receive on-site business counseling, and they’re also guided through the process of founding and growing a company. BDC mentors help members take advantage oftax and other state incentives, and they also offer advice for owners hoping to break into new markets or fine tune product ideas.
The nonprofit facility is selective in terms of whom it accepts into the program, Kieson stresses. Entrepreneurs must first have a unique, marketable idea for a growing business sector, “have a reasonable chance of obtaining financing,” and preside over a company that has a legitimate chance of generating a significant number of jobs. On a more granular level, the BDC accepts neither retail nor heavy manufacturing businesses, focusing instead on light and medium manufacturers.
More: In December, the unemployment rate in the Oklahoma City metro area was 3.6%, two percentage points below the national average.
One of the incubator’s success stories is Immunology Solutions, a company founded by John Westfall that offers allergy-testing services in rural parts of the state, according to i2E News. Though he had thought up the idea for the business, Westfall needed help executing the vision for his fledgling company—something he found at the BDC.
“I kind of just showed up on their doorstep,” he told the news provider. “They helped me write a business plan, which I, I had a plan in my head for about six months, but not much further than that.”
It’s in this way that incubators like the BDC prove crucial to so many entrepreneurs, filling an otherwise glaring void that exists between a concept and a final product. For its part, the BDC is actively recruiting entrepreneurs as it hopes to continue helping businesses grow and the state’s economy thrive. And in a place with
This is the second installment of our multi-part, year-long #SiliconCitiesUSA Series
What Is #SiliconCitiesUSA?
Over the course of this year, we’ll explore how entrepreneurs and businesses are faring in non-major U.S. cities. We’ll be reporting on the ground from each city, talking with elected officials and business leaders about how they’re harnessing their unique resources and local talent to fuel economic growth and better compete against more established urban centers like San Francisco and New York City.