Grand opening held for Bellefonte incubator

EMMA GOSALVEZ/THE EXPRESS Attendees are seen yesterday at SpringBoard, Centre County’s newest business incubator located at 120 S. Water St., during its grand opening.

BELLEFONTE — Startup entrepreneurs now have one more space in which to grow their business.

SpringBoard, Bellefonte’s first and only business incubator, had a Thursday afternoon grand opening, which invited a big crowd from the local community and attracted three applicants for the space, which also has had four other serious inquiries. Several local and state representatives, along with stakeholders, spoke at the grand opening.

Located at 120 S. Water St., the 1,400-square-foot space will hold between 12 to 24 startup businesses, depending upon size. It is now the sixth business incubator in the county and is the result of the work of the Bellefonte Keystone Community Development Association (BelleKey), the county, Bellefonte Borough and 12 other stakeholders.

According to Commissioner Mark Higgins, who has been a big supporter of the project, seed funding for SpringBoard was provided primarily by the county, with additional help from First National Bank and the Bellefonte Eagles Club. The rest of the stakeholders and Chris Summers, building owner, did most of the work to get the incubator ready to open by this spring.

“I had people outside the entrepreneurial community ask me, ‘Why do you get so excited about business incubators?’ Higgins said. “Well, we get so excited about business incubators because being an entrepreneur and starting a small business is incredibly hard and it’s very risky.”

Commissioner Mark Higgins speaks at the event.

The five-year success rate for a new business that is not in an incubator is under 25 percent. Higgins said that startups in a business incubator can double their chances of success.

For example, the TechCelerator incubator at Innovation Park in State College has a five-year success rate of more than 50 percent, according to Higgins. Some incubators at MIT have a success rate of 75 percent.

Incubators are the key to creating more jobs, Higgins said.

“The only types of businesses that have consistently created jobs over the past several decades are new businesses, startups and entrepreneurs,” he said. “You want to earn a good living, you want your children and grandchildren to have a good job here in Centre County, but we all need to support entrepreneurship and small business. One great way to support entrepreneurs is business incubators.”

The space for SpringBoard consists of open work spaces, a shared conference room and a shared kitchenette. Jim Erickson, president of Blue Mountain Quality Resources, Inc., donated almost all of the incubator’s furniture.

EMMA GOSALVEZ/THE EXPRESS Community and business leaders cut the ribbon for the opening of SpringBoard, Bellefonte’s first and only business incubator, yesterday on Water Street.

“I certainly have empathy with every grassroots startup company out there,” Erickson said. “I started Blue Mountain in my spare bedroom and that was many years ago. Today we have 50 employees, we have 10,000 square feet of Class A office space, and being a tech company, the economic value we bring to the Centre Region is well beyond our 50 employees — there’s a multiplier effect — and I’m very pleased and proud to have been able to accomplish that.”

When Blue Mountain started in 1989, employees felt completely isolated, as there was only one business incubator in the Centre region, which was located in an old school on North Atherton Street in State College. Erickson said the company could not even afford that. However, they were able to use other services the incubator provided, including three hours of free legal support, which was provided by Rod Beard, now president of BelleKey.

While it has been a long process to get the incubator to where it is now, and a few details still need to be taken care of, Beard said that it is great to see it finally come to fruition.

“I wish to recognize and thank in advance those sturdy, and sometime crazy, people who want to start a new business,” he said. “We’re here to help them; I hope we help them realize their dreams, create jobs and bring economic opportunity to everybody in the county and beyond.”

Another big supporter of the incubator has been Bellefonte Borough, which sees SpringBoard as a crucial component of the town’s revitalization.

Rod Beard, president of BelleKey, speaks at the event.

“SpringBoard’s mission is to nurture innovators during startup, or the germitive phase of their businesses,” said Bellefonte Borough Council President Gay Dunne. “It can be compared to soil preparation of a community garden, for growing potential businesses, which result in good jobs. This is an early, positive step toward economic development of our area.”

Anyone interested in applying to SpringBoard or for more information about its services can contact BelleKey coordinator Shannon Wright at swright@bellefontepa.gov or 814-355-1501. For the first year of SpringBoard, the rent will be $150 per month for a coworking space and $250 per month for a lockable desk space. Memberships are month to month.

EMMA GOSALVEZ/THE EXPRESS Attendees are seen at the grand opening of the SpringBoard business incubator yesterday in Bellefonte.