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DeKalb County small-business incubator set to open to users in July

DeKALB – After it started as only an idea that popped up at a committee meeting in January, DeKalb County officials are expecting to welcome the first tenants to the new business incubator as early as next week.

“They want a professional atmosphere for their business, and that’s what we’re trying to give them,” Mary Supple said of entrepreneurs and incubator prospects. Supple is the county’s economic development coordinator and day-to-day manager of the incubator.

From the outset, members of the county board’s Economic Development Committee wanted a venue where entrepreneurs could have space to work – at low cost – and possibly receive mentorship. Also, committee members expressed, the incubator could serve as a tool to attract more small businesses to the area.

Committee members also expressed early on that the incubator’s purpose would be to help small businesses grow and thrive.

“We certainly aren’t doing this to make more money for the county,” committee chairman Bob Brown, D-6th District, said at the January meeting when the incubator idea first was presented.

The business incubator is located in the Community Outreach Building in the county health complex at 2500 N. Annie Glidden Road in DeKalb.

It is patterned after existing incubators in Chicago and Arizona where aspiring entrepreneurs – and even those who have been around for a while – could have space to operate and grow.

Instead of paying market-rate rent for workspace they may not be able to afford or even need, small-business owners can rent an office or cubicle in the incubator at a substantially lower rate.

The incubator includes 15 offices for rent, ranging from $250 to $500 a month, and 27 cubicles from $75 monthly for singles to $500 each month for a bank of them. Renters also have access to common areas, which include a conference room with TV monitors, and have use of Wi-Fi and fiber optics, among a menu of other amenities. Additionally, renters are able to pay for use of other rooms in the building for a fee.

Supple would not name the first five tenants. She said they still are in the process of signing the lease for the cubicles or the 100-square-foot office they each will be renting.

But she did say that two are nonprofits and two are from outside of DeKalb County – since residency is not a requirement. Three are startups, including a business that would be the first of its kind in the area, Supple said. Collectively, the companies could have as many as 20 employees.

While four are expected to get going in the incubator after the Independence Day holiday, the fifth won’t move in until August. These and all other tenants will be able to work out of the incubator for up to three years, Supple explained.

“We are encouraging them to stay here after [that time],” she said.

The county repurposed the suite where the incubator is now located after one of its large tenants, a company that provided home health services, shuttered and ended up vacating the space. Adventure Works, a special therapy provider, is another company that was in the space before the incubator was conceived. Supple said Adventure Works had to apply to be in the new space.

The business incubator is run by an eight-member advisory board that currently includes one county board member, several entrepreneurs, and civic and business leaders.

A second round of applications is being considered to add more tenants. The deadline to apply is July 22.

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