Originally created 02/25/97

Experts to help entrepreneurs



Ideas for high-tech factories will have a safer place to grow in Augusta soon, in addition to a handful of experts to tend the nursery.

The Small Business Incubator will begin initially next month with room for four businesses in offices under renovation on the fourth floor of the Hatcher Building at 501 Greene St. In about 13 months, a larger facility will open on the campus of Augusta Technical Institute.

Organizers hope to offer advice and low rent to engineers and scientists with marketable ideas but little business know-how. They point to Savannah River Site, the Medical College of Georgia and Fort Gordon as sources of high-tech specialists who may be nurturing entrepreneurial dreams.

"We've got a wealth of talent in the area - technical and business. We have a lot of people who would like to stay in the area," said Earle Claire, executive director of the Southeastern Technology Center. "Oftentimes it is a question of the costs of starting up a new business and keeping it going the first year."

The Savannah River Regional Diversification Initiative awarded the Southeastern Technology Center a $143,000 grant of community-assistance funds from the U.S. Department of Energy. That money will buy office machines and hire a secretary/receptionist for the budding businesses to share.

At the same time, the city of Augusta has committed $400,000 to match with another federal grant of $1.1 million. The combined $1.5 million will go toward construction of an 18,000-square-foot facility on land being sold by Augusta Tech.

"This is an insightful project," said Randy Oliver, city administrator. "We as government want to have good businesses, and actually most of the businesses in the United State are small businesses."

When the larger facility is complete, it will house 15 businesses for up to five years each. By then, they should be able to survive on their own, leaders said.

"We are looking over the first five years to create at least 50 jobs. If you get lucky, obviously it will be more," said Tim Maund, executive director of the CSRA Regional Development Center, which applied for the construction grant.

He estimated that the economic impact of the payroll from incubator companies could repay the public cost of construction within 10 years.

Besides the young companies, the permanent incubator will include offices for Dr. Claire's agency, the University of Georgia Business Outreach Services, and Georgia Institute of Technology's Economic Development Institute. All three agencies offer free business and engineering advice to small businesses.