About a dozen new businesses have begun in the Greater Hazleton Innovation Center, where an entrepreneur can move in and take advantage of the advice and cost-sharing measures the center provides.
Now, the center's director has an idea to help start more new businesses.
Jack St. Pierre, director of the Community Association for New Business Entrepreneurship (CAN BE), said he is introducing the affiliate client, which would have all of the advantages a resident client would have, except that the affiliate is not physically located in the Innovation Center, along Rotary Drive in the Valmont Industrial Park.
"We get calls from people all the time," he said. "They don't want to commit to paying rent, don't want to enter into a lease. They just want to cultivate an idea."
St. Pierre said the affiliate program is gaining in popularity nationwide.
"A prospective start-up or small business in existence can become a participant in the incubator program, without being a resident tenant," St. Pierre said. "They can take advantage of the facilities, like use the conference room on a scheduled basis. We can get them into our copy system. I'd like to set up a common office, where someone who is an affiliate client can come in and use the office for an hour or two, maybe half a day."
Being an affiliate tenant would provide the entrepreneur with many services and cost a lot less. Rent for a small office in the Innovation Center costs about $250 a month, up to $800 a month for a larger light industrial space.
"New businesses can use this as a mailing address," St. Pierre said. "$100 a month is the steal of the century to have access to consulting service from me and mentors in the community -- professional specialists in banking, law, accounting. We have all of those people at our disposal. Some of them do it pro bono for awhile, and then reduced fees after that."
Being an affiliate tenant, St. Pierre said, would provide more of a professional image than if the entrepreneur was operating out of their home.
"If they had a visitor, they could bring them to a professional office to have a meeting in the conference room -- a client, a supplier or a funding source -- to give them more credibility," he said.
If a new business started by an affiliate tenant gets going, the affiliate may turn into a resident tenant, St. Pierre said.
"If some of these people spend a little time here, if they are not already in a storefront, after six months or a year, they might consider moving in here and establish a more permanent office for at least a year," he said.
St. Pierre said the concept has always existed -- CAN BE did have one affiliate tenant -- but he hasn't promoted it until now.
"We're looking for some new ideas to promote it," he said. "We want to open it up to the entire community."
St. Pierre said the first thing an entrepreneur discusses with him is money.
"Most of the time when people call or come here, the first thing they want is money," St. Pierre said. "I get asked all the time are there grants. There are no grants.
"They need money to get started or grow," he said. "To grow is much easier. But if they are a start-up with an unproven product and no revenue, money is very difficult to come by."
While grants are few and far between, St. Pierre said there are some new funding programs that can help fledgling businesses get off the ground.
"In the county's new loan programs, there is one for innovation that can be up to $50,000," St. Pierre said. "The interest rates are 1.5 percent. There are several 1.5 percent loan programs. Even the state has lowered their rates from 2.5 percent to 1.5 percent on a lot of their loan programs. There is money out there, provided the prospect can document they can handle the debt service, and have some collateral to put behind the loan."
A slow economy is a typical time for a new business to start, St. Pierre said
"Many companies do start in a down economy, because the people who start them may be out of work, and use the opportunity to start a new business," he said.
"But it is still the question of money. The banks are so tough on collateral and creditworthiness. If they don't have their own money to put in, it's discouraging a lot of people. People have put their homes up as collateral. I've rarely seen the bank take someone's home."
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