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NBIA remembers Joe Mancuso

June 2008

The silver platter that NBIA presented to Joe Mancuso in 1994 for his contributions to the business incubation industry always sat directly across from his desk at the Mancuso Business Development Group in Batavia, N.Y. And anytime he could attend an NBIA conference, he was thrilled to discuss his favorite topic – business incubation – with people from around the globe.

With the April 22 death of Mancuso, who founded the first business incubator in the United States – and arguably the world – in Batavia in 1959, the business incubation industry lost one of its biggest champions. Mancuso was 88.

“Joe Mancuso was ahead of his time – way ahead of his time,” says Mark Rice, Frederic C. Hamilton Professor for Free Enterprise at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., and a former NBIA board chairman. “Seeing the decline hitting his hometown of Batavia, Joe was determined to do something about it. Instead of hunkering down in the face of adversity, he saw an opportunity to enhance his own business while also helping his community by starting an incubator to support small and growing ventures.”

When Massey-Ferguson closed its Batavia plant in 1956, it left behind an 850,000-square-foot complex of multistory buildings and massive unemployment. The Mancuso family, which owned a number of businesses in the area, bought the campus and charged Joe with filling it. Unable to find a single tenant for the plant, Mancuso divided the building into individual spaces and provided the businesses with advice, shared office services and help in raising capital. Within five years, the entire complex, called the Batavia Industrial Center, was full, and the business incubation industry was born.

Making a difference in his community ranked high in Joe’s mind, says Tom Mancuso, president of Mancuso Business Development Group and Joe’s son. “He was always thinking about how to help people have jobs,” Tom says. “Since ‘you’ve gotta work with what you’ve got’ was his mantra, old buildings always made sense to him. In his eyes, almost every old building offered an opportunity to ‘let people take their chance.’ It is our job to help them make the most of that chance. When a client needs something, it was Dad’s habit to say yes, and then tell us to figure out how to do it.”

Tom also notes that Joe promoted sustainable development long before it was stylish to be green. “Dad felt we should take advantage of pedestrian-friendly locations with existing infrastructure and avoid tearing down a structure to burden another landfill or draw more resources from nature to build something new,” he says.

Many longtime NBIA members say his enthusiasm for the business incubation industry was contagious, and that he’ll long be remembered. “He was a pioneer, an entrepreneur, an investor and a community-minded soul,” says Candace Campbell, principal of CDC Associates in Minneapolis and a former NBIA board chairwoman. “I am glad he had his turn on this earth while I am here.”

Keywords: history of business incubation

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