Bradenton business incubator ready for the next great idea

BRADENTON -- If you've ever had a great business idea, but haven't been sure what it would take to not only get it off the ground, but also to keep it sustainable, Bradenton's first business incubator might be your next stop.

The idea to start a Bradenton incubator came from Stan Schultes and Sara Hand, who, through their own work, saw technology changing how people started, maintained and conducted business.

"This project came out of the fact that outside of Starbucks, where would you work if you needed a workspace with WiFi?" asked Hand. "Working with entrepreneurs in the early stages of their companies, you learn that if you don't create a space for them, it just doesn't happen. It's interesting just how many people who have lived and worked in Bradenton aren't here any more because they didn't have that space -- and we see a community ready to embrace the change."

That's the basics behind the Bradenton incubator, located at 912 Seventh Ave. E., which was the site of an open house Friday.

"It's a formal education and mentoring program to help encourage success in early-stage companies, and improves the chances of surviving dramatically," he said. "We pair them with people who have been there and done that in their industry sector. The most important thing is the management team that can execute a great idea. You can't just have a great

idea, you have to know how to execute it, grow, market and put together a team that can sustain a business through all stages."

The benefit of having a local incubator, Schultes said, is that up to 85 percent of businesses that get started in an incubator remain local, which creates business, jobs and economic growth within the community.

The incubator is in the old No. 2 Fire Station and still requires about $300,000 of renovations to get to the point where Schultes said they can handle every level of an incubator program. But they are prepared to start hearing from entrepreneurs.

"We'll create an advisory board and have people pitch their ideas," said Schultes. "Those applying will go through a screening process, and we are looking for high-growth potential.

"We have a network of associates who are very experienced in start-up businesses and are quite good at helping to pick good ideas," he added. "Those guys are invaluable to what we do."

Don't limit yourself when it comes to business ideas, Hand urged.

"It doesn't have to be what people think is high growth, like technology," she said. "We live in a place where we have opportunity and performance to say you could be a farmer's-market company and be high growth. Tropicana started that way, by shipping boxes of fruit, and people would have once ruled that out as high growth. Look at them now.

"The potential for growth is an idea and having an understanding of market needs," Hand said. "If you can solve that problem that exists in the market and can do that in an innovative way, then we may have someone who can transform something."

Schultes said the potential entrepreneur will have solid guidance through the process and, if proven to be successful, could find financial help along the way. He said incubators are attractive to investors looking for new and innovative business ideas. The program is designed to pair potential successes with both intellectual and financial capital opportunities.

The incubator is also open to existing mobile businesses to use as workspace for meetings and networking. Various working environments will eventually be ready that will include office space, group work settings and education.

Hand and Schultes are still working toward their 501(c)3 nonprofit status, which will open the door for grants. In the meantime, the Manatee Community Foundation is acting as the fiscal agent in pursuing grants that will elevate the program and the historic building, which will offer its services through grants, rather than charging applicants.

"We are still in fund-raising mode to get all of that done," said Schultes. "We need to get our build-out done before we start operating our co-working space, but we are ready to start running programs out of here. We are beginning the application process and are interested in talking to people with great ideas, talking with potential partners and start building the culture as we can."

To find out more about the incubator, application process, how to become a partner or donor, call Schultes at 941-228-2006.

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.