Western New York’s Southern Tier is more than rich farmland and pastoral settings: It’s home to agrarian and other industries, and also to IncubatorWorks. With two Southern Tier locations, the business incubator—with a mission to significantly expand the number of regional businesses that fabricate, manufacture parts, or provide business services—is using its Allegany County home base to full advantage. It serves college students with big dreams and local residents who understand the region needs all kinds of businesses for economic vitality.
Melody Kellogg, the program manager for IncubatorWorks, believes there’s a wealth of opportunity along the southern border of New York State. In addition, she says the enterprise is “uniquely challenged to meet the entrepreneurial needs of the very diverse community in Allegany County.”
Diverse indeed. There’s a significant student population (as many as 7,000) and a strong permanent population base, and both share strong creativity and vision. IncubatorWorks is the anchoring organization for startups in the region.
Its goal is to help new businesses, which in turn create jobs, add to the economy, and make the region more attractive for employees and more opportunities. It also mentors new and struggling small businesses, giving them an extra shot of attention.
That’s a pretty tall order for any enterprise. IncubatorWorks recognizes the challenges and also the potential rewards. Last summer Kellogg came “home” to the region to work at IncubatorWorks’ Alfred facility (a sister incubator is in Corning), bringing more than 20 years’ experience in electrical engineering and technology with her. “I’m from Wellsville and wanted to move back (from Southern California) to reboot my life,” she says.
IncubatorWorks—once known as the Ceramics Corridor Innovation Center when it launched in 1997—had early intentions to create a ceramics and glass corridor between Corning and the renowned ceramics engineering programs at Alfred University.
The initial goals were to invite former Corning employees to innovate around glass and related materials and to keep Alfred graduates in the area by appealing to their entrepreneurial spirit. While there were some early successes, a rebranded and revitalized effort began offering virtual mentoring services and reduced cost workspace rental in 2013.
Mentoring services are provided for free: IncubatorWorks is funded through grants and private individuals who share a passion for small startups with big dreams. The incubator does not fund the development of new business, although helping an entrepreneur find funding is part of the process, along with determining a financial strategy for sustenance and growth.
Currently the Alfred location houses four businesses (Saxon Glass Technologies, CeraGen, SRS Holdings and Xylon Technical Ceramics, all headed by Alfred University alumni.) Kellogg says, “One team actually already started a business with us and sold it, and is back to start another business.” Alfred University’s Center for Advanced Ceramic Technology (CACT) is also in the space.
Kellogg has two key targets: She focuses some attention on the three colleges in Allegany County—Houghton College, Alfred University, and Alfred State College of Technology—to connect with students and extol the value of IncubatorWorks’ resources. She also reaches out to the region’s existing entrepreneurs—notably veterans and farmers—to help them redefine existing businesses or breathe new life into their growth plans. “Our services are open to any business that’s five years old or younger,” she says.
IncubatorWorks is open to all business sectors, too, not just technology. “We will work with anyone who has a dream or an idea for a business,” Kellogg says.
The dream and the idea are actually the easiest parts of a business launch. The entrepreneur has to hunker down to the details—with guidance from the IncubatorWorks team. There’s research to be done to see if the idea has market demand, then an assessment of comparable enterprises which helps determine the business’ viability and set a product price point.
“No one starts at the same place,” Kellogg says. “We meet entrepreneurs where they are while we get to know how their concept could develop.” The next step is to put together a plan. Kellogg says the team at IncubatorWorks helps the entrepreneur think through a timeline and a process.
And then there’s homework: An entrepreneur can come in weekly or less frequently depending on how they want their business to take shape. New entrepreneurs sometimes think that IncubatorWorks will actually do the research and prepare the business plans for them: that’s not the case, Kellogg says.
“We’re there to guide them to do their own work. We’re mentors. Often entrepreneurs don’t realize that even though they have idea, research shows that the business is already ‘out there.’ We help them define their audience,” Kellogg says.
Establishing a good foundation on which to grow is essential. “New business fail more than they succeed, and we want to change those numbers. Allegany County is rich in tourism, agriculture, dairy, nonprofits, artists, small manufacturing, infrastructure builders, and many family-run businesses serving unique niches,” Kellogg says. “Business ideas can sprout from anywhere in our ecosystem, and we look forward to giving new businesses the fuel and support they need to flourish.”