In 1989, Julian Webb and two colleagues from the employment and enterprise development industry incorporated and launched Capital Region Enterprise and Employment Development Association (CREEDA) in the heart of Canberra, the capital of Australia. What began as a single business incubator in the late 1980s now operates as a nonprofit network in Canberra with incubator facilities in Downer, Narrabundah and Erindale.
The cofounder and CEO says CREEDA"s development came in response to "the demand in our community [for new services and economic growth] and in recognition of the fact that a solution to unemployment was the creation of new, successful businesses. CREEDA has planned its growth to benefit from the economies of scale and improved quality of service that flows from a network of incubators."
Indeed, CREEDA clients include a range of companies, offering services such as computer repair, financial consulting, construction contracting, massage therapy, employment counseling, communications and marketing, interior design, and real estate.
Serving such diverse clients required increasingly detailed market assessments as the incubators grew, Webb says, as well as thorough assessments of the incubators" financial viability, operational costs and revenue. CREEDA offers a range of client services, and the incubators are designed to be flexible and responsive to each client, he says. Staff reviews potential clients, and pending acceptance, places them into one of four categories depending on their needs: Growing (companies with high growth potential); Consolidating (those with growth potential but in need of consolidating their core business); Struggling (companies "stuck in a rut" and trying to survive); and Testing (clients undertaking research and development, pilot tests, etc.).
Each of the three incubators houses 30 to 40 tenants and maintains an occupancy rate of 85 percent to 95 percent, Webb says. "To break even, we need to ensure the sites have higher than 80 percent occupancy on average," he notes. [Leasable] square footage varies by site: the CREEDA Business Centres (CBC) North in Downer has 1,960 square meters, CBC South in Narrabundah measures 1,320 square meters and CBC John Knight in Erindale has 1,000 square meters. Together, CREEDA"s incubators employ three customer service coordinators, a CBC manager, three business coaches and a building manager.
CREEDA has had a significant impact on its community, assisting 301 small businesses and graduating 143 companies that have together employed 1,355 people and generated more than US$69 million worth of business.
One of several highly successful graduates — Softlaw Corporation — stands out in particular, says Webb. Softlaw, which develops computer software, was a CREEDA client during its research and development phase. During this time, CREEDA was able to offer the company flexible leasing terms so that it could grow and take risks it would not have otherwise been able to take while performing proof of product. The company now has more than 100 employees with multimillion annual revenues (in U.S. dollars). "The company had to struggle, learn and adapt and has gone on to be very successful," Webb says. "We were able to play a role in nurturing their development while they were in the incubator. As graduates, they continue to grow."
Webb says the NBIA award recognizes the hard work that many individuals have contributed over the years and the lessons he and his colleagues learned along the way. He notes the two most critical lessons: "mistakes happen, and good managers are very hard to find." Mistakes, he said, "lead to improvement, and there are great people out there to manage incubators, although they may not last more than three years. It"s a tough job."
CREEDA"s current challenges include coping with growth, maintaining enthusiasm and improving its quality of service while at the same time improving the organization"s financial position. Still, those issues don"t daunt CREEDA staff, especially as the organization unveils its newest initiative: a high-technology incubator called Epicorp Limited, which CREEDA developed and will help manage.
Epicorp is owned by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Australian National University and the University of Canberra. And that"s not all. CREEDA also is in the process of developing a national network of incubators for establishing and financing environmental businesses and technology companies. "We are never short of ideas and new initiatives to keep us on the boil," Webb says.
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