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Business Incubator Series: Interview With Ebony Johnson, Entrepreneurial Programs Champion, TechTown — Detroit, Michigan (Part 3)

Posted on Sunday, Mar 20th 2011

By guest authors Irina Patterson and Praveen Karoshi

Irina: Do you know how entrepreneurs get evaluated for these loans?

Ebony: The loans are based on business worthiness, where they are in their stages of development, who is in place on their team, and the feasibility of their idea, what is their plan, what is their ability to pay the money back, that sort of thing.

Irina: And what is the upper limit for the loans?

Ebony: It varies. It really depends on the Thrive One Fund. It is in the tens of thousands, if you will.

Irina: You mentioned that your incubator is a bit different from other incubators. What are some specific differences?

Ebony: We work with people who do not have space in our building but they want to access the coaching and other services.

The flip side of that is that we have people who have space in our building but they don’t necessarily access the coaches, our mentors. They don’t necessarily want to take part in that. They are just fine with renting space from us.

When I have attended the NBIA [National Business Incubation Association] conferences, [I’ve learned] that with some incubators, everyone who comes into their incubator has space in their incubator, and everyone has a defined limit of time after which they either graduate or don’t graduate from the incubator.

We have people who are renting a significant amount of space without a certain timeframe [in which they plan] to graduate, and a lot of that is due to the square footage of space that we have.

Irina: How is your rent? Is it subsidized or at market rates?

Ebony: It is close to market rates. Given where we are, I think we are really on par with the market.

Irina: So, the key benefits that you provide are the physical space, coaching, connections, what else?

Ebony: Access to capital, mentoring, and other talent matching.

Irina: How does the talent matching work?

Ebony: That is where we work with our volunteers. We are also now trying to implement a more of a matching system with people who are looking for work and not aware of entrepreneurial opportunities. So, we are now trying to have a person within our organization that will actually work to match interns and then other people that are experienced, like marketing executives or other C-level executives that may choose to work with a startup.

Irina: Where do you usually look for people like that?

Ebony: Part of it is just being in our community, in our environment, going to certain events, letting other people know what we are trying to do and they spread the word.

Also, we have an initiative that we launched that we call TechTown’s BOOM! The New Economy initiative, for people who are 50 and older, who are really looking for something different to do and who have years of experience.

They may or may not want to be an entrepreneur, but they may have an opportunity. They may want to take advantage of working with a small company, so that is how we can match talent as well.

Irina: How do you usually promote your initiatives?

Ebony: We have an excellent marketing person, Nichole Christian. She is a former writer for The Detroit Free Press and The New York Times, so she has a lot of access to the media. She has done an exceptional job of getting our stories covered and getting the word out to the media.

Irina: How many applications do you receive a month?

Ebony: We may get about 50 inquirers. People want different services or information. We have a central in-take team that works with everybody who comes to our incubator and wants to access any level of services. Our in-take team evaluates what support entrepreneurs need and tells them which services we have available that may be right for them. They also talk about other services that our partners have available that entrepreneurs may want to take advantage of.

Irina: What are some of your partner organizations?

Ebony: The Small Business Development and Technology Center. We have other incubators in our area, Ann Arbor SPARK, Automation Alley. In our building we have another program that is called Bizdom U, and it is run by Dan Gilbert. It is another organization, but they rent space here. Also, SCORE. There are just any number of development organizations that work with entrepreneurs.

This segment is part 3 in the series : Business Incubator Series: Interview With Ebony Johnson, Entrepreneurial Programs Champion, TechTown -- Detroit, Michigan
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