Incubator project gets big boost from grant

Monday, October 9, 2006

Start-up businesses will benefit from federal grant money that Southeast Missouri State University will use to finish off the third floor of the school's Innovation Center.

Renovations to the third floor of the former First Baptist Church education building on Broadway will provide expanded office space to serve as a business incubator for start-up companies, school officials said.

The Missouri Department of Economic Development, working in conjunction with the Delta Regional Authority, secured a grant of $150,000 for the renovation project.

In January, Southeast was awarded nearly $49,700 for the project. But that wasn't enough to start the remodeling work, said Dennis Roedemeier, who directs the Missouri Research Corp. which coordinates business and technology research efforts at the university.

Roedemeier said the university has been seeking added funding to begin the remodeling work for months. "We tried and failed, tried and failed," he said.

The latest grant brings total federal funding to $191,694.80. That's enough to proceed with construction of office space needed to meet the growing demand for business incubator space, Roedemeier said.

The third-floor offices could be ready for occupancy by March 31, he said.

Southeast's Innovation Center opened in the summer of 2005. The university didn't have enough funding at that time to finish off the third floor, school officials said.

The Innovation Center houses four start-up businesses on the first floor, along with the Small Business Development Center and other business-related agencies.

New businesses have had to share two offices on the first floor. Roedemeier said there's not enough space for the demand. As a result, he has decided to turn a first-floor break room into added incubator space for the time being.

While the Innovation Center is designed mainly to meet business needs, the entire second floor houses the university's professional development program, which provides continuing education for the region's teachers.

Roedemeier said renovation of the third floor will not only provide expanded incubator space, but also allow for the relocation of existing start-up businesses.

Plans call for construction of 10 small offices and two larger rooms, he said.

"I look for small businesses that have growth potential," Roedemeier said. Those include computer software and life-science companies.

The start-up businesses rent space at less-than-market rates. The incubator arrangement allows them to share secretarial services and office equipment.

Roedemeier said the latest grant shows that the university's association with the Delta Regional Authority is paying dividends.

The regional authority works with federal agencies, state and local governments, not-for-profit organizations and the business community in parts of eight states -- Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.

The authority's goal is to foster partnerships to improve the economy of the Mississippi Delta region.

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