Incubators in Oklahoma offer everything from help with marketing to writing a business plan
By Brianna Bailey
Copyright ©2014, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
When entrepreneur John Westfall founded his own allergy testing company, he had a few clients lined up, but no office space or written business plan.
With his firm now located in the Moore Norman Technology Center’s Business Development Center, Westfall said the program has helped him with everything from giving him a brick-and-mortar office to meet with potential clients to helping him find an attorney to draw up service contracts.
“I kind of just showed up on their doorstep,” said Westfall, owner of Immunology Solutions. The company provides allergy testing services primarily in rural areas of the state. “They helped me write a business plan, which I, I had a plan in my head for about six months, but not much further than that.”
Situated at Moore Norman Technology’s south Oklahoma City campus, the nonprofit Business Development Center incubator program offers local business below-market rate rents for office space, as well as helping with everything from bookkeeping questions to marketing.
The Business Center is home to six businesses that range from an energy sector software company that has international clients that include Fortune 500 companies to Bison Archeological Consulting Services Inc., which conducts archeological survey work.
Kevin Sutter, CEO of GreenOkie.com, which designs and builds custom pergolas and fireplaces, said that locating in the Business Development Center has allowed him to expand the company from just two people to nine employees in the span of a year — five of whom are Moore Norman Technology Center graduates.
The program has helped him with everything from finding interns to help with obtaining a grant to take a computer course.
“They are going to have to boot us out the door of this place,” Sutter said.
However, the Business Development Center incubator program still has room for more businesses.
“We’re kind of still a well-kept secret,” said Henry Dumas, small business management coordinator at the Business Development Center. “The program is about helping companies grow and create new jobs in the community.”
Business incubators in the state are still underutilized by small businesses that might not know what services they can provide, said Brad Rickelman, president of the Oklahoma Business Incubator Association.
“How can we get in front of more businesses and let them know what we can offer?” Rickelman said. “That’s the quandary we all face.”
Oklahoma had 40 certified business incubator programs spread across the state at the end of 2013, according to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.
Most of the state’s incubator programs are operated through Oklahoma’s CareerTech system, colleges and universities and economic development agencies throughout the state, Rickelman said.
Based on a 2013 survey conducted by the Commerce Department, the incubators housed 177 small businesses last year, providing 946 full-time jobs. Over the course of Oklahoma’s Small Business Incubator Certification program, 681 businesses have located in an incubator, and of those, 351 have graduated from or relocated to a larger facility and 242 of those businesses have remained in the state, employing 1,553 at the end of 2013.
While some incubator programs don’t offer much more than office space, the better ones provide networking opportunities, mentoring and guidance about how to grow a business, Rickelman said.
“If you aren’t getting any help with your business, then you are really just sitting in an office,” Rickelman said.