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Incubator creates program to assist young companies

Managers at the county's technology business incubator have created a road map for business development that they hope will help new companies evaluate their progress and prepare them for growth.

The new program, called Sustainable Business Excellence, details the general steps of development for a young company, generating a timeline and goals to enable a company to move in and out of the incubator in two years.

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The program, to be implemented in the fall, is a more structured form of the process incubator manager Carol Morrison said is used for member companies, but the new program gives the entrepreneurs a chance to see their company's progress and an idea of the hurdles on the horizon.

"It relates to the natural life cycle of a business [and] reflects the phases of business development of the incubator companies," she said. "This actually helps the company see what they need to do. Looking at it, you can see the whole picture rather than seeing [tasks] in pieces as we had been seeing it."

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The program is one of a few new developments at the Center for Business Technology Development and the NeoTech incubator - a center to grow technology start-ups run by the county's Economic Development Authority.

Two new companies have joined the incubator, which earlier this year had seen a decline in interested companies. The incubator is also working with Howard Community College to bring classes to the incubator. A new partnership with the county's public library system will offer entrepreneurs online access to business databases from the center or public libraries.

But the Sustainable Business Excellence program will affect entrepreneurs in the incubator program and educational programs offered by the facility, Morrison said.

The road map covers such aspects of running a business as marketing, sales, product development, funding, human resources and executive networking. In each area, the road map identifies steps and goals to develop that aspect of the business and gives entrepreneurs a sense of when they may expect to encounter hurdles.

The incubator already offers educational programs to help companies in specific areas - sales and marketing, for example - but Morrison said the Sustainable Business Excellence program will enable her to better target which courses and seminars to offer and when. As part of the program, Morrison said incubator companies will also work more closely with advisers.

"Now it's going to be more personalized," she said. "If I have three companies that need or are close to needing legal and tax advice services, then I will put together an informal [program] with a consultant, or I'll do a presentation and open it to the public. It's basically planned around the needs of the incubator companies."

And though the new program doesn't set deadlines, it encourages growth at a pace that would have a new business ready to leave the incubator within two years, Morrison said.

Greg D. Mirkin, vice president of Farfield Systems Inc., which recently joined the incubator, said he was introduced to the program when the company moved in and is looking forward to going through it. He said the program is comprehensive and helps make owners aware of issues that can hinder growth.

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"I think the danger is you get in and have moderate success, and you think, 'this is great,' but there are all kinds of factors you may not be aware of. It gives you options to think about for the future," he said. "And it's also a good confidence builder just to get the verification that, yes, we are getting certain things the right way."

Also new at the Center for Business and Technology Development, of which the incubator is a part, is a partnership that will give entrepreneurs online access from public libraries to business databases. Users need a county library card and a personal identification number to access databases, such as ones that provide corporate and industry news and business directory information.


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