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Incubator leverages regional incubation network

December 2011

Northeastern Ohio has come to be an icon of the so-called Rust Belt. It's an area where industry once thrived, but over time, various factors – high costs driving business overseas, regulations, concerns about pollution – closed the factories one after another. After a period of dormancy, that part of the world is coming back.

Leading the way are numerous business incubators, including MAGNET High Tech Business Incubation Program of Cleveland, run and staffed by David Crain. Opened in 2002, the program has graduated about 20 companies and currently houses 22 clients in a 25,000-square-foot facility, most in the manufacturing realm. The MAGNET incubator focuses on engineered products, helping companies through design and prototyping and onto the point where they're ready to put items out for bid to manufacturers.

Close collaboration among incubators throughout the region, via both informal and formal networks, such as the Northeast Ohio Incubator Collaborative, has allowed each program to specialize. "We all cooperate with each other," Crain says. "So, if a company would be a better fit at a different incubator, I send them over. The others send people to me if they think this is the right place for them." Indeed, he says, some companies have been clients at different incubators as their needs changed. "It's not the usual formula."

The MAGNET incubator is part of a larger organization, the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, founded in 1984 in hope of reversing the decline in industrial production in Cleveland and the surrounding area. In September 2011, the umbrella organization, joining with three other groups as the Northeast Ohio Speed-To-Market Accelerator, shared in more than
$2 million awarded by the White House Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge. The goal is "to accelerate the speed-to-market for near-production or pilot-production prototypes in the advanced energy and flexible electronics industry clusters in Northeast Ohio," the organization says.

Even as the parent organization joins with other groups to take on projects too big for any of them alone, the MAGNET incubator in some respects seems less a standalone program than part of a dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem. As a result, it combines the advantages of a large incubation network with those of a smaller program.

"Sometimes I'll suggest that someone doesn't need to be an incubator resident, that they're doing just fine for now from the kitchen table," Crain says. This doesn't mean such a client won't receive incubator services. Crain says the region's incubators offer mentoring and advice in addition to formal affiliate programs.

The large-program attributes that the MAGNET incubator enjoys include access to numerous nearby colleges, involvement in regional angel investor networks and of course, connections to other specialized incubators. "The relationships are bidirectional," Crain says, "and we've got a pretty diverse support network around here, in addition to the internal services I have access to as part of a larger program."—Dennis E. Powell

Keywords: incubator networks, Incubator management-general

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