The Auburn Business Incubator, located at the Auburn Research Park, provides start-ups the basic needs to become successful.
Need office space, support personnel and help finding potential customers to get your fledgling business off the ground?
The Auburn Research and Technology Foundation has the answer – an incubator. Not just any incubator, but one fortified with business principles to help breathe life into even the smallest start-up. The Auburn Business Incubator – located at the Auburn Research Park – became a reality in 2011 and is home to 14 start-up companies from a variety of disciplines, including machine welding, computer programming and marketing. Harbert College of Business Dean and Wells Fargo Professor Bill Hardgrave is one of nine members on the ABI Advisory Board.
“Somebody with a good business plan, but not so sure on how to begin the business, should knock ABI’s door,” said Sakthi Kandaswaamy, owner of Focus Engineering, an ABI client, said. “They will give you the direction you need in developing the business.”
How did the incubator -- home to 14 primarily knowledge-based companies -- come to
fruition? John Weete, Executive Director of the Auburn Research Park, said, “a strong emphasis was placed on the commercialization of technologies coming
out of the university (technology transfer), as well as assisting local entrepreneurs
that wish to start businesses and be successful.”
“We had most of the components of an economic development ecosystem for commercialization in the early stages of the research park, the technology transfer, and we had the research of the university," Weete said. "One of my jobs is to try to tie the components together to work as a system and three years ago the incubator was not there. That was the only component missing from our model.”
With the help of Speaker of the Alabama House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), Weete said, it became a reality.
“In addition to the services offered, it (the incubator) gives them (clients) an address at a legitimate business location rather than working out of their garage,” Weete noted. “It gives their customers confidence that they are a legitimate business.”
The typical time for a company to occupy the incubator is “about three years,” Weete said. “They could show success and start generating a cash flow and hopefully hire people within three or four years, if not less, then they would be more suitable to move into a more permanent facility.”
“The incubator offers a variety of assistance programs, not just an office with a telephone,” said Phil Dunlap, assistant director of the ARTF and manager of the ABI. “The assistance varies with the need of the company. For example, we assist in linking incubator clients to potential customers, finding interns and employees, and sponsor programs such as use of social media in business, accounting, and government contracting.”
What must a young business do to succeed?
“Usually they start out as one- or two-person operations,” Weete said. “When you’re in a situation like that you pretty much have to do it all. That’s pretty much what an entrepreneur has to do starting a business. We help try to lighten the load to a certain extent on the business things where they can focus more on the business development, whether it’s software development, writing in code, or it’s the development of a widget.”
Focus Engineering became one of the incubator’s early clients, and arguably is one of its greatest success stories. After just two years, Focus already has a strong reputation for its CNC Machining and Fabrication services, including milling, turning, cutting, 3D printing, sparking, sheet metal fabrication, welding, anodizing and heat-treating.
“We are an engineering/manufacturing company,” Kandaswaamy said. “We make parts for automotive companies around here (Auburn-Opelika area). That included parts that directly go on an automobile and parts, fixtures or tools, automotive companies use to assemble their products. We are not a product industry, but a service industry.
“They (ABI) introduced us to potential customers who might need our service,” said Kandaswaamy. “It adds value to us -- when somebody like ABI introduces us to these big corporations. They have always found connections at the top level in big corporations for us to present our capabilities to them. In our business, that is the major step. Because once they become a customer, they stay with us forever, unlike a product-based business and we keep making parts on a regular basis. We do not need hundreds of customers, but 10 very good customers.”
“Focus was started with a motive that good quality work for reasonable cost and quick delivery can build a strong business in this area.”
Weete said the incubator’s success rate has been outstanding.
“Everybody has been successful in the sense that they are still in business,” said Weete. “The basic national statistic is, if you have a true start-up business that starts from scratch, 1 in 10 are successful. If they are affiliated with a good full-service incubator, that percentage goes up to 4, maybe 5 out of 10.”
Dave Ketchen, Executive Director of the Lowder Center for Family Business and Entrepreneurship at Harbert College, is an ABI advocate.
“There is a fierce desire in various places across campus to create an entrepreneurship eco-system that will help more new ventures emerge, grow, and thrive,” said Ketchen. “Building this eco-system requires making connections between budding entrepreneurs – our students – and the infrastructure provided by the Auburn Research Park and its business incubator.”
How does the incubator benefit Auburn?
“It’s all part of an economic development model that we are implementing,” Weete said.
“Most research universities across the country are placing a heavy emphasis on commercialization.
Public universities are increasingly expecting to impact the economies of the state
and their regions. By having an incubator, we do several things. We give our faculty
and students opportunities to help them create and be successful in businesses, which
creates jobs, which, in turn, creates revenue, in terms of the businesses as well
as the individuals. Linking these businesses with our faculty helps generate research
funding, help develop technology, and that sort of thing.
“It touches the economic development mission of the university, it touches the educational component where we have interns and students that are able to work with real businesses, and it helps the research mission.”
For further information about the Auburn Research Park and the Auburn Business Incubator, contact John Weete, Executive Director of the Auburn Research Park, at (334) 844-7480 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Phil Dunlap, Assistant Director of the Auburn Research Park, at (334) 844-7444 or email@example.com