Choosing the right incubator or accelerator: Business is less daunting when you know where to start


Photo above: Heath Guinn, Mars Reid and John Campbell at Sync.Space. Photo by Anne Newton

Part one of a two-part series

By Anne Newton

From business incubators that help you get started – to business accelerators that identify what you need to go to the next level – to coworker and makerspaces that offer access to equipment, technology and expertise, whatever your needs, the goal is the same: to develop a salable product or service and help your business grow.

If you’re unsure of the first move or you’re dealing with the logistics of early business growth, incubators like the KOSBE Small Business Development Center offer a good first step.

“Some who come to KOSBE have no idea what they need to do legally to start a business,” said Executive Director Aundrea Wilcox. “My job is not (to say) whether this is a good business idea. What I want to know is it believable, does he/she have all the skills necessary to execute the plan, do they have the capital they need, do they have the tools needed for success.”

Executive director of AccelNow, John Campbell says he asks, “Who have you talked to,” “What are you finding from other sources,” and “What did you bring to illustrate it,” to help entrepreneurs discover where they are in the process and what their goal or target is.

“I think ideally the client should have a story about what they want to do when they first come in,” Campbell said. “Whatever it takes to get some kind of understanding of what they need to help them be more productive and get to another level.”

Wilcox agrees it’s important to understand where entrepreneurs are in the process, “I don’t want to have anything fall through the cracks so I ask questions to make sure they’re ready.”

AccelNow’s office is at Heath Guinn’s newly opened Sync.Space in Kingsport, a facility that provides accessible co-worker space for entrepreneurs, and a platform for an accelerator model. “We are more than just a space, we are where businesses come to accelerate,” said Guinn. “We’ve partnered with AccelNow and the Holston Business Development Center to bring dedicated mentorship and networking to our members where they have access to human capital resources and tools.”

As member businesses grow, Sync.Space connects them with local support to staff, market and manufacture products, and provides local and export distribution opportunities.

The facility offers high-speed internet, teleconferencing during normal business hours, meeting rooms, desks or workstations as available and boasts a 1,000-square-foot green screen studio insulated for audio recording with professional support in the production of high-end photography and promotional videos.

The Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator provides support for small business startups including writing business plans, funding service referral and other professional services.

Cathy Lowe, the center’s director, says the smaller spaces at the facility are reserved for small business startups and offers affiliate and co-working memberships, educational tools, advertising, media support, networking, financing, marketing and advanced manufacturing.

“Our goal is to make sure we give small businesses an opportunity to establish themselves and grow in the community by connecting them with education and networking resources to make them successful,” she said.

The Tennessee Small Business Development Center (TSBDC) at East Tennessee State University is the linchpin for coordinating regional business development. It’s one of 15 Business Development Center Network locations in Tennessee primarily providing counseling services and educational opportunities to entrepreneurs and “for profit” new and existing small businesses. As an affiliate, regional offices have access to additional and unique resources and programs of a major regional university, enhancing services available to client businesses as well as certified TSBDC counselors.

The ETSU Innovation Lab is a university-based high-tech business incubator that assists entrepreneurs develop emerging technologies from concept through commercialization. Its objectives are to facilitate collaboration, innovation and shared learning for businesses during their critical developmental years, create high-quality jobs, emerging technology driven companies that stimulate and support sustainable economic growth and development.

The Innovation Lab’s worldwide scope and International Soft Landings Designation allow it to serve as a nexus between entrepreneurs, educational institutions, economic development councils and the international business community by offering physical and virtual business support to growing companies. 

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