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March 31, 2014

GMU, county government open business incubator

Photos/Lawrence Emerson
Judy Olsen, the first to rent “co-working” space, talks with Renee Younges, manager of the new center.
Fauquier Economic Development Director Miles Friedman talks with local media representatives during a tour of the center Friday.
The center occupies 3,300 square feet, just below sidewalk level, at 70 Main St.
Early on, we’re looking at companies with high growth potential and connections to the county. We don’t know exactly what the demand will be. We’re not sure exactly what companies we will be able to help most.
Mason Enterprise Center
• What: Business accelerator/incubator with offices, conference room and “co-working” space

• Where: 70 Main St., Warrenton

• Operator: George Mason University, under agreement with county.

• Manager: Renee Younes, who also oversees the Manassas center.

• Monthly fees: $99 for “virtual” clients to $1,250 for largest private office.

• Services: A range of mentoring, consultation and workshops, provided by George Mason University and other organizations.

• Phone: 540-216-7100

• Website:
www.masonenterprisecenter.org

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Editor
Fauquier entrepreneurs have a new place to grow fledgling businesses.

The Mason Enterprise Center opened early this month at 70 Main St. in Warrenton.

The business incubator/accelerator offers office space, a conference room, broadband Internet access and access to a range of George Mason University experts in government contracting, global trade, venture capital and other fields.

“We’re not an office space purveyor,” Executive Director Keith Segerson stressed during a tour of the rented space Friday. “These companies should be full life cycle.”

That means companies should “graduate” from the incubator in two or three years, said Renee Younes, who manages the GMU enterprise centers in Manassas and Warrenton.

Fauquier’s board of supervisors appropriated $400,000 to open the center and to help cover operating expenses for the first two years. The county has a two-year lease for the 3,300 square feet of space at about $4,500 a month.

County officials last fall considered several options for housing GMU’s fifth enterprise center. The university opened its first incubator in the City of Fairfax two decades ago.

“We are looking aggressively for something bigger and permanent in Old Town,” county Economic Development Director Miles Friedman said.

Eventually, the center would generate enough revenue to cover most of its costs, according to projections county Mr. Friedman gave the supervisors last year.

Within three years, Fauquier might build a structure to house the incubator and other offices on county-owned property between West Lee and Waterloo streets. Modular buildings on that tract house the cooperative extension service offices, off Pelham Street.

Graphic designer Judy Olsen of Marshall became the first tenant in the new center, signing up for the ‘co-working’ space — a bright, open room down the hall from the other offices.

“The main draw was high-speed internet and getting out and being with other people,” said Ms. Olsen, who has run By the Light of the Moon Design from her home.

“I had read about co-working a year ago and thought Warrenton would be a great place for a co-working space,” she added.

Ms. Olsen “pitched” the idea to Mr. Friedman after the board of supervisors in August discussed backing the incubator.

A web designer has signed up to join her in the new space. She hopes that will help expand her business through potential alliances.

Ms. Olsen recently finished second in competition for a big, new client. That company’s owners liked her work but worried about contracting with a sole practitioner and sought a design company with a larger staff and emergency backup, she said.

To qualify for office space in the incubator, an entrepreneur must complete an application and file a business plan. Those steps help ensure selected companies have the potential to expand and to create jobs, according to Mr. Segerson.

“Early on, we’re looking at companies with high growth potential and connections to the county,” he added.

The other Mason Enterprise Centers have drawn lots of government contractors and technology companies.

“We don’t know exactly what the demand will be” in Warrenton, Mr. Segerson admitted. “We’re not sure exactly what companies we will be able to help most.

“It’s not a George Mason program. We come in and listen: ‘What are your needs?’ ”

The center will offer mentoring, one-on-one consulting and workshops for groups. It will work with local business organizations and the Small Business Development Center at Lord Fairfax Community College.

Individual offices rent for $550 to $1,250 a month, depending on size. The Warrenton center has eight offices, the largest about 240 square feet.

Use of the co-working (open) space runs $200 a month. (Daily and weekly options are available.)

“Virtual” clients pay $99 a month to use the address, the conference room and to get access to mentoring and programs.

“But, you don’t have to be a center client to take advantage of the mentoring and the programs,” Ms. Younes said. “We’re going to open those up to the community.”
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Anton Afterwit · April 4, 2014 at 5:44 am
Yes, we will applaud them for making an effort. But somehow it does not pass the smell test. Just spending other people’s money so they can say they did something is not the right approach.

They spent several years and millions of dollars trying to figure out how to hobble the wine industry from conducting agritourism (as well as our small farmers). They have discouraged entrepreneurship by going after people trying to find creative ways to make money (renting out a spot on their farm for a birthday party). They have gone out of their way to make people pay if they think they can get a dollar out of it (forcing McDonalds to hide their sign with landscaping in order to allow McDonalds to improve the customer experience by expanding the drive-thru). It does not take long for the word to get out about these efforts and brand the County as "Anti-Business".

This is kind of like a farmer taking one can of paint to improve his dilapidated barn on one side. His roof still leaks, there are areas where siding are still missing, and the termites are destroying the support beams. But hey, let’s applaud the farmer because now he can point to that one side and say, "Hey, I made an effort." Yes, that is real pretty on one side, but you still have a dilapidated barn that will continue to decay.

They would be wiser to spend the money on meaningful repairs. The idea is not to create things to point to, but to really make meaningful change. They should start with a working group of average citizens to review all of the County Code with them to identify rules that discourage business creation or growth. They need to make sure the rules do not create monopolies but encourage competition. They need to ensure permitting is based on the rules and not based on whims or personal vendettas. They need to ensure enforcement is just and balanced based on observed/documented facts, not on direction from particular citizens.

In short, they need to worry about the foundation, the framing and the roof of the barn before they worry about painting to make it pretty.
farmbum · April 3, 2014 at 12:30 pm
Hmmm... the start-up fundamentals from Fauquier’s point-of-view seem to be flawed, as noted by Anton, however I do applaud the BOS for jumping in and doing something to attract business. We must be all-in to attract, develop and keep business relationships within the county.
Anton Afterwit · April 2, 2014 at 11:32 am
Let me make sure I understand this correctly. The executive director of the incubator, Mr. Keith Segerson, is quoted as having said, “We don’t know exactly what the demand will be in Warrenton" and "we’re not sure exactly what companies we will be able to help most."

In my Business 101 course in Junior College I was taught that the first thing you do before starting any business is you must determine whether there is a market and exactly who that market is. In your business plan (as defined by the SBA) you will do a market analysis (http://www.sba.gov/content/market-analysis). Here you will define the information about the industry description and outlook; information about your target market; size of the primary target market; how much market share you can gain; and a competitive analysis.

So are you telling me that our BOS spent $400,000 for a business incubator being run by an executive director who has not completed the first basic step of business planning which is to do your market analysis? And these are the people that are going to help others in the county start a business? I think the BOS and Mr. Segerson need to go to a Junior College and take a Business 101 course before they spend any more of our money or try to help other people spend their money. Maybe they should find someone to run the place that understands Business 101.

More spending just for the sake of spending?
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