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Entrepreneurs Corner: Finding a way to help develop state’s aspiring entrepreneurs

Holsapple nurtures new business at Venture Incubator

According to Merriam-Webster, an incubator may be “an apparatus by which eggs are hatched artificially,” or it could be “an organization or place that aids the development of new business ventures especially by providing low-cost commercial space, management assistance, or shared services.”

Stephen McDill / Mississippi Business Journal

Wes Holsapple is heading up the new Venture Incubator in Jackson, which will “provide training, coaching and mentoring to help raise the odds of success for an entrepreneur.” Photo by: Stephen McDill / Mississippi Business Journal

One might see these two functions as not dissimilar.  In a recent conversation with Wes Holsapple, who is heading up the new Venture Incubator in Jackson, I learned how the new “eggs” are nurtured, supported and hatched.  Of course, we’re referring to entrepreneurs who wish to start new businesses.

So how will the Venture Incubator help those aspiring entrepreneurs?

“In many ways,” Wes told me.  “For instance, we’ll provide office and meeting space at low rates, along with shared support services and equipment. Those are important, but the really important elements will be training, coaching and mentoring to help raise the odds of success for an entrepreneur.”

In our conversation, Wes pointed out that the failure rate for new businesses is very high, but “87 percent of those who graduate from an incubator program are still in business after four years.  That doubles the odds of success for a start-up business.”

To accomplish the mission of the incubator, Wes will draw on many years of experience as a business consultant, trainer and business development expert with small throughout Mississippi.  He told me that his passion is helping people succeed.

“We see this as something that is vitally necessary in Mississippi,” Wes said.  “We’ll be the only multi-use incubator in the metro Jackson area that will serve both product and service focused businesses, and if we want to foster the growth of small business in this state, we’re going to have to provide the right tools and support.  After all, the real job engine here and elsewhere is small business.”

Wes began the development process by visiting other business incubators in the South.

“I was really impressed by the incubator in Chattanooga (Tenn.),” he said.  “They serve hundreds of clients, have their own huge facility and can relate tons of success stories.  I see no reason we can’t have the same kind of facility here in Mississippi.”

Of course, as we discussed, no new venture of this type is without obstacles.

“Funding is always a challenge, especially in these days of tight money and tough economic conditions.” he said.  “But I’m increasingly optimistic that we’ll have the support and backing we need to go forward and do good things in 2011.”

Venture Incubator has the blessing of Downtown Jackson Partners, the Jackson Chamber and other groups and individuals.

“Ben Allen, and many others, have been of much help in the process,” he said.

Wes is starting with a 2,100-square-foot facility in downtown Jackson on the second floor of the Regions Plaza.  It will have private offices, cubicles and meeting space at very reasonable rates.  His goal is to add an additional 4,000 square feet as the operation gets up to steam, so it can serve the needs of many more entrepreneurs.

“I don’t want to give the idea that we’re in the leasing business,” Wes said.  “Our true mission is providing the coaching, support and resources to help small businesses get a head start to success.  Providing the space and services is almost secondary to that.”

What kinds of things does he see as beneficial in terms of being accepted as a Venture Incubator client?

“Well, we hope to help business people get on the right track and avoid some of the pitfalls, such as poor work habits and self-discipline, lack of training and guidance, lack of experience and under-capitalization.  Business is tough and the challenges are many, so helping in these key areas is something we see as vital.”

We discussed some of the challenges facing Mississippi and the region.  From his point of view, “it’s very important to help people from different communities and backgrounds come together and work for common objectives.”

Although he sees challenging business conditions persisting into 2011, “that doesn’t mean that there are not great opportunities for folks with the drive and passion to make it happen,” he said.  “A lot of what I know best is helping people figure out what their passion is, focus on what they do best, and go after their dreams.”

Perhaps that’s the best description of the fundamental purpose of an incubator.

The Venture Incubator’s web site can be visited at www.VentureIncubator.org.

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