City of Akron, University of Akron, Akron Global Business Incubator
PROJECT: Overseas Impact of the Akron Global Business Accelerator in 2009
Business incubators might be today’s hot property in economic development, but that wasn’t the case back in 1983.
It was a new and relatively unheard-of concept in that year, when the Akron Global Business Incubator was created by the city of Akron to support those hoping to start businesses after being laid off by the rubber companies.
“We were one of very few incubators across the country [at that time],” says CEO Michael LeHere, who has led the organization since AGBA’s earliest days. “Today there are over 1,100 incubators, and it’s an economic development tool most cities feel they have to have.”
The ABGA isn’t just one of the country’s oldest business incubators, it’s also one of the best, named in 2008 as the Innovation Incubator of the Year by the National Business Incubation Association.
But don’t take NBIA’s word for it. The proof is in the numbers: ABGA is home to 49 tenant companies employing 215, both numbers that have doubled in the past 18 months. Average per-job salaries are $50,000-plus. Over the past year, these companies have raised $18.5 million in investment capital to commercialize technologies in areas such as advanced and renewable energy, biomedical, polymers and green technologies.
So how has AGBA done it?
“We brought online the kinds of space and services that tech-driven companies need,” says LeHere. “It’s ‘build it and they will come.’ They have, and in large numbers.”
Companies such as InSet Systems, whose underground sensor system to track coal miners was named a Top Ten Invention by Popular Science in 2008. Or Summit Data Communications, a Wi-Fi hardware manufacturer that twice has been named a technology finalist for Outstanding Incubator Client by NBIA. Or Vadxx Energy, which recently snagged a $75,000 state grant to turn petroleum-based waste products into synthetic crude oil and has now expanded into a plant outside AGBA’s walls.
Also a factor in AGBA’s success has been LeHere’s efforts to build what he calls “technology bridges” to foreign tech companies, positioning Akron as an ideal location to site North American operations.
Through a partnership with Israeli incubator Targetech, which is supported financially through an Akron-based public/private investment group, AGBA gained two new Israeli tenants this spring.
It’s a coup for Akron and a jackpot for entrepreneurs, who benefit from the below-market-rate space and business services at their fingertips.
But LeHere says the atmosphere is just as advantageous to entrepreneurs as the cheap rent.
“There’s a spirit that operates here, when you have 50-some companies and entrepreneurs who experience similar types of problems,” says LeHere. “They share solutions and war stories. It’s a high-energy environment to be in.”
The University of Akron Research Foundation
PROJECT: Continued support of university research venture
Braintree Business Development Center
PROJECT: Recent expansion