by Corinne Colbert
In 2010, NBIA celebrates its 25th anniversary. While many equate the association’s development with Dinah Adkins —a founding member and the association’s chief executive from 1988 to 2009 —she is far from being its sole influence. Fourteen of those industry pioneers were honored with Founders Awards at NBIA’s 12th International Conference on Business Incubation in 1998.
“Although many people have made the business incubation industry a flourishing economic development tool, the pioneers are responsible for its very existence,” says Adkins, NBIA president emerita. “They put down tenacious roots that no political wind, no drought of funding, no storm of latest fads could disturb.”
In the kickoff of a yearlong series looking at NBIA’s development over 25 years, we remind you of the people who helped make it possible —and how they continue to serve entrepreneurs and incubation.
As an early scholar of incubation at Pennsylvania State University, Allen published more than 20 papers and studies. Several of those works were standard references for years, helping to define the nature of incubators and the delivery of business assistance services. Allen later became assistant vice president of economic and technology development at Ohio University in Athens, and director of its Innovation Center; and director of technology licensing at Ohio State University in Columbus, where he worked closely with the Business Technology Center (now TechColumbus). A former NBIA board member and first vice chairman, Allen currently is assistant vice president for technology transfer in the University of Colorado system.
In 1984, Campbell published the first national survey of business incubation, profiling 50 facilities in the United States and Canada. She presented her findings at a national conference on business incubation and in a book, Business Incubator Profiles. Another book, Change Agents in the New Economy, was the first work to provide baseline data and measures of success in incubation. A former NBIA board member and chairwoman, Campbell subsequently formed CDC Associates, a consulting firm in community and economic development. Today, Campbell is vice president of sustainability programs for Avant Energy Services in Minneapolis, which provides energy management services to public utilities, universities and other large energy users.
In 1983, Collins partnered the professional experience of his firm, Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers), with several incubators in the northeastern United States. He later developed BatorLink, an online information system, for NBIA. In those pre-Internet days, BatorLink connected incubators with each other and with NBIA, the U.S. Small Business Administration, C&L, the Federal Laboratory Consortium and an angel investor network. He also developed the Business Matchmaker, a clearinghouse for strategic alliances, trade and equity investment that was a forerunner of the NBIA Partner Program, and published five studies on incubation. A former NBIA board member and chairman, Collins retired from PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2007.
Cox, founding director of SBA’s Office of Private Sector Initiatives, suggested to his superiors that business incubation might be a good strategy for business development. He organized the first national conference on business incubation in 1984, drawing more than 500 formerly unacquainted practitioners and stakeholders. He sponsored numerous other incubation conferences through 1987 and published newsletters, directories and other materials to spread the word about incubation. Cox went on to lead the Service Corps of Retired Executives (now SCORE) and the Small Business Development Centers, ending his SBA career as associate administrator for financial assistance. He later formed JRC Consulting to help lenders and government organizations with economic development and business lending. He became CEO of Newtek Small Business Finance in 2002, and still serves as its chairman.
In 1979, Lavelle repeated Joseph Mancuso’s feat of turning a vacant factory into an economic development engine. As executive director of the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago, she converted a 350,000-square-foot factory into the Fulton-Carroll Center (which was NBIA’s Incubator of the Year in 2006). In 1988 Lavelle became NBIA board chairwoman just months before Adkins became executive director; she headed the effort that resulted in direct elections of board members. Lavelle was named Inc. magazine’s Supporter of Entrepreneurship in 1992. She segued into incubation consulting in the United States and abroad. She later became chief of party for the USAID-funded Business Support Project for Poland, helping to build support for small and medium enterprises. She remains committed to incubation and economic development as owner of Lavelle & Associates, a consulting firm with offices in the U.S. and Poland.
Mancuso didn’t just invent business incubation as a concept; he coined the phrase. Mancuso —then owner of one of his family’s business enterprises in upstate New York —was tasked by his family with finding a use for an 850,000-square-foot former Massey-Ferguson plant. Unable to find a single tenant for it, Mancuso decided to divide the building into smaller spaces for individual businesses. But the masterstroke was his idea to offer business advice, shared services and help in raising capital. One of the earliest clients was a chicken company; as a joke, Mancuso began calling his facility “the incubator.” The name stuck, and the Batavia Industrial Center —which is widely considered to be the world’s first business incubator —was born. It remains in operation (and an NBIA member) to this day. Mancuso died in 2008.
Adkins was a founding member of NBIA, but she wasn’t its first leader. That honor goes to Morales, NBIA’s founding executive director and its leader until 1988. It was Morales’ eloquence that attracted high-quality practitioners and major sponsors. Morales organized the first two NBIA conferences and published the association’s first directories and the first issues of the NBIA Review. After leaving NBIA, Morales established several consulting practices, including one in Belgium that helped guide feasibility studies for business incubation and economic development programs in Asia, the Caribbean and Europe. Morales has since returned to the United States and works as an SBDC counselor in Maryland.
Morgan pulled off a seemingly impossible task in 1986: He not only lined up the considerable funding needed to launch the Milwaukee Enterprise Center, but also defended his haul against other community organizations that wanted a piece of the pie —and turned them into MEC stakeholders. He took what he learned at the first NBIA conference in 1987 and used it to make MEC the center for economic development in the area. He later developed a second incubator, MEC South, in 1994. The first minority representative on the NBIA board, Morgan proved that a central-city incubator could be a sophisticated catalyst for urban neighborhood revitalization. Morgan is retired from the Milwaukee Area Technical College, which owned both MEC programs.
Founder and chairman of Control Data Corp., Norris also headed its City Venture Corp., which developed a number of business incubators. The backing of a major corporation gave incubation credibility and helped bring attention to the industry; Control Data also sponsored NBIA’s early conferences. After retiring from Control Data in 1986, Norris founded the William C. Norris Institute, which supports innovation in education and the creation of socially beneficial start-ups. Norris died in 2006.
As deputy secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Commerce, Plosila in 1982 created the Ben Franklin Partnership Program, the first state-supported technology development program (including business incubators) in the United States. He helped plan the first NBIA conference and joined the NBIA Board of Directors. In 1992, he was runner-up (behind Lavelle) for Inc.’s Supporter of Entrepreneurship award. Plosila later became president of the Suburban Maryland Technology Council, now the Technology Council of Maryland. Later Plosila served as vice president of the Technology Partnership Practice for the Battelle Memorial Institute, until he retired in 2008; he now does occasional consulting for Battelle.
Rice returned to his alma mater, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in 1988 to lead the RPI Incubator Center. Rice was a six-year NBIA board member and chairman from 1990 to 1992. Rice is perhaps best known as the co-author (with Jana Matthews) of Growing New Ventures, Creating New Jobs: Principles and Practices of Successful Business Incubation, the first book on incubation to incorporate the experiences of high-level managers. Rice remains an NBIA member as Frederic C. Hamilton Professor for Free Enterprise at Babson College and professor of technology entrepreneurship at the Olin College of Engineering.
Smilor’s book, The New Business Incubator: Linking Talent, Technology, Capital, and Know How, was a seminal textbook on the industry. As executive director of the IC2 Institute at The University of Texas at Austin, Smilor developed the award-winning Austin Technology Incubator. In 1992, Smilor became executive director of the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, where he funded Rice and Matthews’ Growing New Ventures, Creating New Jobs, as well as many of NBIA’s capacity-building efforts. Smilor later was president of the Foundation for Enterprise Development/Beyster Institute. In 2009 he was named faculty fellow in innovation and technology at the Neely School of Business at Texas Christian University.
Weinberg not only helped make NBIA what it is today; he also brought the association to the campus of Ohio University in Athens. An early researcher on rural business incubation, he (and Allen) convinced university leadership to give NBIA a home when Morales resigned as executive director. He also persuaded Adkins, then manager of the Ohio University Innovation Center, to assume association leadership. Weinberg, the founding director of OU’s Institute for Local Government Administration and Rural Development, wrote several grants to support NBIA and loaned his staff for early NBIA surveys. A professor of political science at Ohio University, Weinberg is director of the George V. Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. Weinberg was a longtime NBIA board member and first vice chairman.
Even if Whaley had not entered the business incubation industry, he would still be a man to honor. A physicist, Whaley helped perfect American radar devices to detect German submarines during World War II. But Whaley did get into incubation, and the industry is the better for it. He assumed leadership of the University City Science Center in Philadelphia in 1970 and turned the consortium into a research park comprising nine buildings and employing more than 5,000. He became NBIA’s first board chairman in 1985 and saw the association through its first years. Whaley died in 1989; two years later, the Friends of University City Science Center endowed NBIA’s highest honor for excellence in business incubation: the Randall M. Whaley Incubator of the Year award.
Keywords: history of business incubation, NBIA programs
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