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NBIA President's Award: Recognizing excellence in industry leadership

June/July 2012

Leader, pragmatist, enthusiastic, organized, effective. These words only begin to describe this year’s NBIA President’s Award winner, Bonnie Herron, executive director of the Gwinnett Innovation Park and chief financial officer at Intelligent Systems in Norcross, Ga.

Among industry veterans, Herron epitomizes the best of the business incubation industry and the people who work in it. “She’s focused, smart and not only committed to the success of her clients, but to the success of her peers in the industry,” says Tracy Kitts, acting CEO of NBIA.

Twenty-two years ago, Herron spearheaded the development of a corporate incubator, not because it was the newest tech fad, but because it would be a vehicle for her company to foster innovation. “We started the Shared Resource Technology Center [now called the Gwinnett Innovation Park] as an independent project, not realizing that there was an entire industry out there doing the same thing,” Herron says. “The incubator is just a program of our corporate entity, Intelligent Systems. Its mission and goals are aligned with our overall corporate strategy and our commitment to give back to the local community through supporting entrepreneurs.”

When Herron attended her first NBIA conference in 1990, she says incubator type, corporate or nonprofit, was – and still is – irrelevant.

“It was great to see other organizations doing the same thing,” she says. “All incubators have sponsors and the sponsors guide how they operate. How we operate is similar; we operate to achieve the goals of our corporate sponsor.”

Herron praised the incubation industry for the extraordinary cooperation among industry professionals and their role as thought leaders. “I think NBIA is a great organization,” she says. “Members are open and share ideas, embracing new trends but also focusing on the basics. Business incubation has a role to play and needs to adjust programming to meet changes in the world.”

When discussing her professional experience, Herron mentions that she and her peers wear different hats – hers are many and varied. Not only is she a CFO of a publicly traded corporation and an incubator manager, Herron has served on and chaired the NBIA Board of Directors, is a frequent contributor to the NBIA listserv, has contributed to NBIA publications and has presented at several NBIA events. Since 1990, her incubation program has worked with almost 85 companies, including winners of NBIA’s Outstanding Incubator Client Award in 1999 and 2010.

Herron views her board service and role as NBIA board chair as a personal accomplishment. “It was outside my corporate role, with a different network and industry,” she says. “That I was elected chair and was able to serve on the board means I did good work in a new industry, and that was valuable to me.”

Like a true incubation veteran, Herron says balancing ambitious professional commitments keeps life interesting. “It was not difficult; it just required multitasking,” Herron laughs. “I’d be bored if I just did the CFO job. It’s chaotic, but good to have the interaction and variety.”

Herron’s advice to others interested in building best practice incubation programs that withstand the test of time and economic recessions is this: “Managers need to stay involved in the industry and figure out what works for them.”—Bridget Lair

Keywords: NBIA programs, people

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