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Worcester’s New Business Incubator: Running Start

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

 

Ryan Leary and Brenna Venkatesh of Running Start, next to a portion of Worcester's Washburn and Moen complex that will house their expanded incubator.

More than a century ago, Worcester's Washburn and Moen Manufacturing Co. spawned Morgan Construction Co. While general superintendent at the now-defunct Washburn and Moen, Charles Morgan studied the process of rolling steel rods and developed the Morgan Mill. He founded the spin-off, Morgan Construction, in 1888.

During the 20th century, Morgan Construction grew into a designer and producer of high-quality rolling-mill products and services for the metals industry worldwide. When Germany-based Siemens AG acquired Morgan Construction in 2008, the Worcester manufacturer was generating annual revenues of $180 million and employing about 1,100 people throughout the U.S.

According to the National Business Incubation Association, the Batavia Industrial Center, commonly known as the first formal business incubator in the U.S., opened in 1959 in Batavia, NY. But the concept of providing business-assistance services to early-stage companies in shared facilities did not catch on with many communities until at least the late 1970s.

More than 30 years ago, NBIA notes, only about12 formal business incubators were operating in the U.S. – all of them in the industrial Northeast, which had been hard-hit by plant closures in the previous decades. These days, there are more than 1,250 such incubators in the U.S.

Giving entrepreneurs a running start

Locally, one of them is Worcester-based Running Start, a co-working space and start-up incubator that launched in September 2012. One of the company’s resources is providing entrepreneurs access to a pool of mentors -- more than two dozen volunteer business experts in varying fields. Each mentor guides an entrepreneur – whether or not the entrepreneur is engaged in business – who is in need of help.

Each of the current client base of 13 entrepreneurs pays Running Start $75 per month, for as long as he or she needs the organization’s services and space. The non-profit, which has filed for federal 501(c)3 tax-exempt status, is now located in 2,000 square feet of leased space at 131 Lincoln St. This June, Running Start will begin renovating 10,000 square feet of leased space at 95 Prescott St., in WPI’s Gateway Park, and plans to relocate there this August. Fittingly, the new location, which will also have 5,000 square feet of industrial-grade space for prototyping, was once part of the Washburn Moen complex.

Running Start is lining up corporate sponsorships to fund a majority of the expansion cost. Grant funding and private donations will cover the rest of the tab. The goal is for revenue from the monthly fees to cover all of Running Start’s costs within five years.

Connecting entrepreneurs with mentors

Ryan Leary and Brenna Venkatesh are co-founders of Running Start. Following, are edited highlights of an interview with them:

How do you connect entrepreneurs with mentors?

Leary: Basically, people come to us with their different needs for advice and connections. We look at our [mentor] contact list and we try to figure out who would be a good fit [for each entrepreneur]. Then, we try to connect them, usually through e-mail or by a conversation.

Your metric is the satisfaction rate of the entrepreneurs and the mentors?

Venkatesh: Exactly. We do try to keep up with the progress of their relationship and also the entrepreneur’s project. We’re constantly gauging overall satisfaction.

Leary:  ...One of the metrics is if [entrepreneurs] are continuing to come to us and ask us to connect [them with mentors].

Venkatesh: And also, [mentors are] continuing to allow us to connect [entrepreneurs] to them.

Steven Jones-D’Agostino is chief pilot of Best Rate of Climb: Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media and Radio Production. He produces and hosts The Business Beat weekly radio show for 90.5 WICN.

 

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