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Business incubators aid new businesses

When a business idea grows too quickly without the proper funds or the space, a business incubator can come to the rescue.

“They [business incubators] are a way for a business to get started at a lower cost and it brings people doing similar things together to collaborate,” said Dan Miner, Senior Vice President, Business Services of the Long Island City Business Improvement District. “People don’t know about incubators.”

A business incubator can vary in how they service small entrepreneurs, most who have outgrown their apartments but can’t afford to pay a commercial rent. Some incubators rent a physical space hourly, daily, weekly or monthly. Almost all focus on businesses in similar industries and all provide small business counseling.

In Queens, LaGuardia Community College’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has become the go-to resource for business incubators and the November 17, 2009 announcement by Goldman Sachs that a fraction of the $500 million initiative to help small businesses will go to the SBDC should add to the resources they provide these incubators.

“The way SBDC works with [business incubators] is that we partner with the entrepreneurs and provide counseling services and workshops,” said Brian Gurski, director of the LaGuardia SBDC, which has also provided business with access to over $25 million in capital since 2001. “The business incubator provides the space, expertise, and training for the long-term, SBDC partners to promote the education.”

One such business incubator in Long Island City, Mi Kitchen es su Kitchen, rents kitchen space in five to eight hour shifts to start-up food entrepreneurs who’ve outgrown their home kitchens.

Four years ago, Kathrine Gregory, a culinary consultant, noticed while teaching at the Consortium for Worker Education (CWE) at 36-46 37th Street that CWE underutilized their kitchen space.

Gregory proposed that they rent their kitchen to budding food entrepreneurs. She partnered with the SBDC to offer the educational support.

“We provide the handholding,” said Gregory, who helps cooks convert recipes from ounces to pounds and cups to gallons so that entrepreneurs can fill more orders and sell more of their goods to restaurants and supermarkets. “Business incubators should be formed for any industry intensive business.”

The founder of WannaHavaCookie, an online cookie store, Marisa Angebrandt used to work in finance before the economic crisis until she found herself without a job. When she contemplated what to do next, her husband encouraged her to pursue her love of baking. Angebrandt started the company in April 2008 from her kitchen, but her business grew too quickly. She needed space to bake more and fast.

“We actually found Mi Kitchen es su Kitchen online after doing some research because New York State is very specific about where to bake things and what you can bake from home,” said Angebrandt, who, since joining the kitchen incubator, has received favorable press from the likes of Real Simple magazine and appeared on The Rachel Ray Show twice.

“I took a tour of the facility and I was awestruck,” she said, noting specifically the large revolving ovens. “I used to work from my home kitchen where I could do, at the most, a max of 24 cookies at a time. Here, I can literally do 1,000 cookies at once.”

Like other clients of Mi Kitchen es su Kitchen, Angebrandt rents kitchen space according to her needs.

Rent can range from $126 to $231 depending on the shifts and amount of kitchen space needed by the bakers and chefs and allows access to grills, stove burners, convection ovens, revolving rack ovens, butcher-block, stainless steel tables, mixes of various sizes, dough press, sheeter, blender, and chocolate melter. Extra monthly fees apply for cold and hot storage.

The kitchen incubator requires that all businesses have a license and insurance.

The other business incubator in Long Island City – and housed on the LaGuardia campus – NY Designs, just graduated in 2009 the first group of design entrepreneurs to complete their three-year incubator program.

“The reason why we chose design is that one out of three designers becomes an entrepreneur and designers with no business training have it more very difficult,” said Natalia Arguello, an alumnus of the Parsons School of Design. “I had my own business and for five years had no idea what I was doing.”

A business incubator like NY Designs, which leases private studio space to designers between $260 and $1,500 a month, offers the use of conference rooms, the freight elevator, storage, docking bays, fiber optic network, broadband Internet access, phone and 24-hour accessibility and security, and lends credibility to the enterprise, according to Arguello.

“When our [design] clients have clients come visit the space they no longer see them as freelancers, but as professionals,” she said, adding that when a designer starts at home but the client wants to meet at their office it gets complicated. “It changes the dynamic.”

NY Designs nurtures various types of artists, from architects to graphic artists to industrial designers like Manuel Saez, who makes ergonomic furniture, among other things, and just won in three categories at the annual design Spark Awards with objects like the CMYK Elektric folding bike, Huni chair and Alta seating line.

Typical of a business incubator, NY Designs offers courses like “Guerilla PR tactics for Designers” to “Oops, I’m a Business. Now what?” to green and sustainable design courses and certifications like “Intro to Building Energy Efficiency” and “Green Building for Contractors.”

NY Designs also has a resource center and green materials library on its premises, a room for photo shoots, a gallery space, and a workshop where designers can build prototypes.

“We wanted to create a space with everything that a designer starting a business did not have,” said Arguello. “It’s a next step after a home office.”

Gurski, director of the LaGuardia SBDC, noted that businesses oftentimes need help getting over that first hump from being home-based with limited capacity, space, equipment and resources into become more formalized

“That’s the value of business incubators,” he said.

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