Guest Columnist

Firms serving entrepreneurs help businesses get started

January 21, 2013 

Olalah Njenga’s 10-year-old Raleigh marketing strategy firm had growing pains last year.

Work was coming into YellowWood Group at its quickest pace yet, and Njenga needed to put together the right team and manage expenses as she opened a second office in Charlotte.

In the past, Njenga would have hired a business coach or a consulting firm. But the offerings of a new business incubator in downtown Cary, the Cary Innovation Center ( caryinnovationcenter.org), seemed like a better and more cost-effective fit.

“It’s an amazing way for a company to get off the ground,” Njenga said.

Njenga is one of many local entrepreneurs taking advantage of a new breed of business programs formed in post-recession years as more people turn to entrepreneurship as a viable career. Cities have gotten behind the movement too, acknowledging that young companies grow faster and create more jobs than established ones.

Here’s a breakdown of the three most common organizations serving entrepreneurs:

•  Incubators typically provide shared offices at a low cost for companies in their first few years of business. They’re best for services or technology firms with one to 10 employees. Many incubators match entrepreneurs with mentors and offer an educational curriculum.

The Cary mentoring organization EntreDot ( entredot.org) also runs the downtown Raleigh incubator for artisans, Kindred ( kindredboutique.com), and soon will open facilities in Chapel Hill and North Raleigh. Incubators for technology and life science companies exist at Research Triangle Park and N.C. State.

•  Accelerators target entrepreneurs who plan to build a $50 million company or larger, raise venture capital, file an initial public offering or be acquired by a major corporation. Accelerators provide a small investment (usually $20,000 to $100,000), mentors and educational seminars, several months of office space and introductions to potential investors.

Most accelerators take a small stake in each company, in return for the resources provided. The Triangle Startup Factory ( trianglestartupfactory.com) in Durham accepts 10 high-tech startups a year. Cherokee Challenge ( cherokeechallenge.com) chooses environmental startups.

•  Co-working allows you to reserve a desk or office for a day, month or year and is a common choice of many startups, freelance writers, developers and designers. There’s the added bonus of working alongside other entrepreneurs who can refer business or collaborate on projects.

HUB Raleigh ( hubraleigh.com) hosts social events, educational programs and networking groups. In Durham, there’s Bull City Coworking ( bullcitycoworking.com) and Mercury Studio ( mercurystudiodurham.com), with studio space for artists. LAUNCH Chapel Hill ( launchchapelhill.com), opening soon, will be a hybrid of co-working and incubating, with subsidized rent, mentoring and fundraising assistance for students and entrepreneurs.

Laura Baverman is a journalist who spent eight years covering business for Cincinnati newspapers before moving to Raleigh in October.

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