National Business Incubation Association; Your source for knowledge and networks in business incubation

Spotlight on Practice

February/March 2010

Press coverage benefits incubators and clients

Three industry leaders recognize the importance of keeping their programs and their clients in the public eye. Charlie D’Agostino, executive director of the Louisiana Business and Technology Center in Baton Rouge; Andy Hamilton, CEO of The Icehouse in Auckland, New Zealand; and Jim Cossler, CEO of Ohio’s Youngstown Business Incubator all consider the time it takes to generate positive news coverage an investment in their incubators.

D’Agostino says that 30 percent of LBTC’s clients learned about the incubator through the media. “It [media coverage] keeps us in the public eye and attracts successful companies, resource providers and funding. LBTC’s board thrives on the number of times the LBTC hits the business report or the business section of the newspaper,” he says.

Hamilton agrees that catching the attention of potential clients and funders is a positive effect of news coverage, but he considers the effort to generate publicity to be a teaching moment with clients as well. “[We need] to help company executives learn that they have a responsibility to tell a story and to get the news out —because without that, they will never be able to tackle the big markets,” he says. To do this, The Icehouse staff organizes media lunches for entrepreneurs to meet with the people who can help them.

Known as YBI’s “chief evangelist,” Cossler sends out stories about the successes of YBI and its clients to a long list of local, national and international news sources, keeping “us fresh in the memory of reporters when they are writing a story we might be a source for.” In the last two years, YBI has been featured or prominently mentioned in 11 national or international media outlets.

These three media-savvy managers have built credibility with their local and regional media by being responsive to their requests for interviews and returning their calls and e-mails immediately. “Reporters know if they need a comment or quote for an article dealing with economic development issues, they’ll get the cooperation and information they need,” says D’Agostino.–Mary Jo Milillo

Events promote client networking

Incubator managers are always on the lookout for ways to promote client interaction. And what better way to attract a crowd than to offer a good meal and an interesting speaker?

In Amarillo, Texas, the West Texas A&M University Enterprise Network launched a Lunch and Learn series in April 2008 with 15 people. Now more than 40 clients, service providers and others meet in the incubator’s training room for monthly gatherings.

The noontime events feature guest speakers or panelists. In their presentations, local service providers talk about services they offer, and entrepreneurs share their business experiences or explain an important lesson they learned.

“Clients know the local speakers, and presenters talk about things relevant to them,” says WTAMU Executive Director, David Terry. “These aren’t complex topics. It comes back to the fact that doing business is the result of doing simple things well.”

In contrast to Amarillo’s open-to-the-public event, attendance at the Entrepreneur’s Network Breakfast at TechTown in Detroit is by invitation only — catering to TechTown clients and Wayne State University students and faculty. Only 25 to 30 invitations go out, and those who can’t make it often give their seats to other colleagues.

Cost is another difference between the networking events in Amarillo and Detroit. Lunch and Learn attendees pay $10 per month to cover program expenses. The Enterprise Network has even realized a small profit — an unexpected side benefit of the series, Terry says.

At TechTown, there is no charge to attend the breakfasts —Wayne State’s Technology Office Transfer covers expenses with a funding grant. Wayne State Interim Associate Vice President for Reasearch and Technology Commercialization Judy Johncox says she spends about $300 for food and for popular books about entrepreneurship, which she gives to the first 25 arrivals at each breakfast.–MJM

Keywords: client services – general, marketing and promotion, networking activities – client

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