One of the earliest supporters of the business incubation industry and NBIA was Control Data Corp., under the direction of company founder William Norris. His belief that large corporations should take the lead, in cooperation with government and other sectors, to address major needs of society, led to the formation of City Venture Corp. (CVC), a Control Data division that developed business incubators in several large and small cities. Many economic developers first heard about business incubation through CVC. Like the U.S. Small Business Administration, Control Data had major presence, and its backing of business incubation gave credibility to the concept and helped market it.
Control Data sponsored the early NBIA conferences and served on the NBIA board until 1990. At one time, CVC boasted that it had either founded, operated or consulted on more than two dozen incubators in the country, beginning in 1979 with a facility in St. Paul, Minn. Other programs opened in Birmingham. Ala. (now the Birmingham Business Assistance Network), Baton Rouge, La. (the Louisiana Business & Technology Center), Toledo, Ohio, Charleston, S.C., and Pueblo, Colo. Most had the name "Business & Technology Center" and were thus identifiable as CVC projects.
Control Data set a standard for business incubators, offering central receptionist services, conference rooms and consulting services. It experimented with integrated information systems such as international trade databases, growth funds and other ideas, many of which had their genesis with Norris. It introduced the concept of an incubator without walls, offering businesses access to incubator services without renting an office. When Control Data hit hard times in the late 1980s and was restructured, it sold off pieces of CVC. All the incubators owned by Control Data also were eventually sold as real estate projects; those that continued were operated by cities or other entities that had maintained ownership.
Norris, a key player in Control Data’s role in business incubation, has remained true to his belief in the support of start-up companies. He conceived and initiated the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corp. (MCC) and helped organize the Norwest Growth Fund, Minnesota Seed Capital Fund and Minnesota Cooperation Office, all of which assist small businesses to start and operate successfully. He is currently chairman of the William C. Norris Institute, a nonprofit organization established by an endowment from Control Data in 1988. The Institute is dedicated to advancing technological cooperation responsive to major societal needs.
Candace Campbell once told Norris, "They should have sold futures on your ideas, because a lot of what you conceived became accepted and adopted by others 10 years later." He helped found the company that became the world’s first computer manufacturer, and under his leadership, Control Data pioneered large-scale computers and PLATO, which applied computer technology to education. Nothing has changed.
A true innovator, Norris continued to work into his well into his 80s. He died in 2006.
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