In an early 20th-century building that has been a movie theater, a bowling alley, a carpet display room and a warehouse, the South Side Innovation Center of Syracuse, N.Y., creates businesses in an area where there was once little business and even less hope. The program considers anyone who asks for business assistance a client, so each year, the incubator’s three full-time and two part-time staff work with hundreds of nonresident clients in addition to its resident clients. As a result, SSIC has had a remarkable impact on the downtrodden south side of the Empire State’s fifth-largest city.
“It started with a visionary college administrator,” says Bob Herz, who until recently was SSIC’s director (he now works on economic development projects for New York State Sen. Martin Golden). “Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Syracuse University, thought that by opening the incubator’s doors, the school could enrich both the school and the community.”
With Cantor as champion, SSIC was created in 2006 as part of the Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises Program within the Whitman School of Management. Whitman students act as consultants under the supervision and guidance of their professors and SSIC staff, says Herz. In exchange, students may receive class credit, pay or experience.
While many incubation programs carefully screen applicants, SSIC accepts everyone – though entrepreneurs still undergo an assessment of their strengths and weakness and work with staff to develop an actionable business plan. “When you walk through the door, so far as we’re concerned, you’re an entrepreneur,” says Herz, who directed the program when it received NBIA’s 2012 Dinah Adkins Incubator of the Year award in the general and special focus category. (The position is currently held by El-Java Williams Abdul-Qadir, a former SSIC client.)
SSIC accomplishes its mission to increase the vitality of the local economy through incubation by partnering with public and private entities to reduce clients’ financial burden for training and assistance. The comprehensive suite of programs and services for entrepreneurs includes the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program, which provides business assistance and entrepreneur training on a sliding-fee scale (including Kauffman’s NxLeveL Business Plan course, one-on-one consulting and other assistance). SSIC also offers a U.S. Small Business Administration Program for Investment in Micro-entrepreneurs (SBA PRIME) that provides personalized start-up training and business assistance to disabled and low-income individuals at no cost.
Keywords: Economic development, NBIA programs, client services – general, special-focus incubator, social entrepreneurship
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