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Being a Gig City: Incubating Small Businesses

This is the first in a series of posts examining a premier Gigabit Community - Wilson, North Carolina.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 85% of all jobs originate from companies with fewer than 30 employees, and 87% of businesses which started through business incubators have succeeded after five years. So Wilson, North Carolina, focused its "Greenlight" gigabit beam on its local business incubator, the Upper Coastal Plan Business Development Center. "Greenlight is driven by three guiding principles," said Will Aycock, the network's General Manager. "Supporting the economic health of the community, improving the delivery of city services, and enhancing the quality of life for the citizens of Wilson." Providing access to symmetrical gigabit speeds has allowed the community's small business incubator to take its services to the next level, to give budding entrepreneurs access to the future today and in a uniquely affordable way.

According to Greg Goddard, Executive Director of the Upper Coastal Plain Council of Government, access to gigabit speeds has meant "Taking our incubation to the next level." Historically their business incubator has attracted "low tech" entrepreneurs: consultants, counselors, state associations, childcare and healthcare providers, people who need work space after normal office hours, even Chic Fil-A administrators, for employee training. The incubator provides a full suite of services including a receptionist, copy and fax machines, phones, 24 hour secure entry, kitchen, meeting rooms, training classes, access to experts, parking, and now, symmetrical gigabit speeds, all for an affordable price. "An 8' by 8' cubicle with those full-suite services leases at $275/month," he said. The goal is to stimulate budding internet-age businesses.

Free Wi-Fi in Wilson

And it has, even for young entrepreneurs elsewhere in the state. For a tech entrepreneur like Dan Holt from Wake Forest, renting space at this Wilson-based incubator lets him be part of the future, and to experience the possible which is impossible at his home in Wake Forest only 30 miles away. Dan is a self-described techie for a local Raleigh defense subcontractor but he likes to be known as founder of the Wake Forest Fiber Optic Initiative.

Dan wanted to put together research for his town government on why they needed to establish a fiber to the home network in Wake Forest. That search led him to Wilson. "They are the only Gigabit City in North Carolina. It's 30 minutes from my home. Not every town has an incubator where you can rent a cubical or office space affordably, giving you access to things like a receptionist, mailroom, fax machine, office space, and gigabit fiber internet. If I were to branch out into any major city, it would be in the $1000's of dollar range, just for the internet service alone. They are passionate" about their Gigabit network in Wilson. "They are mentoring the rest of the state."

Having access to Gigabit speeds in Wilson's business incubator has allowed Dan to connect servers and to mirror "what normal life would be if I had Gigabit access in my Wake Forest home." "The future is all about video," he reiterated. "I have several computers tied into virtual machines I can load up with Netflix and run at the same time." In Wilson, he said "It works." "You can connect easily to places that can take advantage of these upload speeds: DropBox, Google Drive, YouTube, sending large files through Microsoft Exchange. Some websites can't even take advantage of these speeds. The bandwidth at their end is not there."

Wake Forest Gigabit Logo

According to Dan, Wilson is set for the future because of its Gigabit network, and he wants the same for Wake Forest. "If you look at South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, there are no networks like this and it won't stop at 2 gig, it's going to 10 and then multiples." He continues, "As time goes on, as more folks find out about Wilson, the City is going to lure alot of people in from around our region, and from other states. If you look at the broadband maps out there, Virginia is the only state close to DC that comes anywhere near this capacity."

When asked if he'll move to Wilson, Dan responded "As a techie, in a heartbeat," but he owns his home in Wake Forest. For now, his Gigabit City incubator has provided him the ability to explore a public/private relationship with the Town of Wake Forest, a place where he could take his Mayor and IT Director and show them what is possible. He would, he added with a virtual wink, like to show Wilson's gigabit capability to his defense industry boss.

In July 2013, Wilson was honored to be North Carolina's first Gigabit City (community-owned). Folks keep asking us "What is it like to be a GigCity?" We plan to release a series of vignettes on how our gigabit infrastructure contributes to why Wilson is a great place to live, work and play in the 21st Century. For more information, contact Jerry Stancil at jstancil@wilsonnc.org (252) 293-5313.

Chattanooga's Network On Knoxville News

We recently came across a news report from Knoxville's WBIR.

The video touches on how the city has gone from a town that used to rely on the choo-choo to a metropolitan wonder that flies over fiber optic cables. Walter Cronkite called Chattanooga the "dirtiest city in America" but the network is transforming it into a technology capitol. Reporter Eleanor Beck focuses on the network's many customers and how they use their connections. Among those customers are an increasing number of businesses who seek the 1 gig service.

Beck spoke with Jack Studer, one of the founders of Lamp Post Group, a downtown incubator. Studer raved about the 1 gig network as a selling point to new businesses. Chattanooga's investment continues to fuel economic development and bring fresh entrepreneurs to town.

The story is a little under four minutes.

Indianola City Owned Network Partners to Encourage Economic Development

“We want to grow our own new businesses in Indianola, and Simpson College is home to an entire group of potential entrepreneurs who we hope will find support for their efforts here and some day choose to locate their businesses here,” [Jerry Kelly, former Indianola mayor and executive director of the city's development association] said. ‘What we are doing is called ‘economic gardening.’ What grows here will stay here.”

Thanks to the Indianola Municipal Utilities (IMU) next-generation broadband network, the city and the college have fertile soil to nurture that garden. We previously wrote about this FTTH partnership here, explaining that the community owns the infrastructure and a local business provides services over the network.

The partnership between Simpson College, the Indianola Development Association, and IMU is called the Indianola + Simpson College Entrepeneurial Devopment Initiative. The student-business incubator will bring together students, mentors, and existing businesses with the hope that resulting entrepeneurships will sprout and grow in Indianola.

Through the partnership, the incubator will have access to IMU's server platforms, wholesale bandwidth, local marketing and outreach efforts, and customer service activities. 25 students will develop senior Capstone Projects through the initiative. College and city leaders anticipate that number will continue to grow.

Simpson College

The Simpson College News Center also writes that the project will be led by Chris Draper. Draper is associated with Des Moines' Startup City, a technology-based business incubator. Draper is CEO of the first graduate of Startup City, Meidh Tech, which offers property management technology solutions.

“By engaging students in real-world problems, allowing them to own their successes and responsibilities, they will begin to see that their classes actually feature lessons learned instead of paths to follow,” he said.  “While we expect that many students will grow their own jobs because of this program, and many of those jobs will remain in our communities, the greatest benefit that Simpson students will realize because of this program is that each day provides a lifetime of opportunity.”

Kevin Kirkpatrick from the Record Herald also talked to Draper, who acknowledged the critical role of local resources, including the network provided by IMU.

Because Iowa does not create barriers for local communities to invest in broadband infrastructure, programs like the Indianola + Simpson College Entrepeneurial Development can proliferate. More states need to take a similar approach and open the door for local communities to pursue economic development with the aid of local community owned networks.

A local news story discussing the project notes that Indianola connectivity is superior to that of Iowa capital Des Moines.