Monday, March 29, 2010 - Urban-businesses incubator launches in Akron - Urban-businesses incubator launches

By Paula Schleis

Beacon Journal business writer

Gary Green is ready to start making and selling the motorcycle accessories he has been developing over the last several months.

The Akron entrepreneur said he has prototypes for 28 fiberglass products — from saddlebags and trunks to fenders — and so much dealer interest that he can envision needing 40 or more employees by the end of his first year in production.

Now he just needs to get out of his garage.

Green's company, AORT Inc., is exactly the kind of minority-owned enterprise that a new statewide program is targeting.

Launch100, a statewide initiative being piloted in Northeast Ohio, seeks to create a pipeline of 100 high-potential minority and inner-city based businesses over the next five years.

The Northeast Ohio economic development group JumpStart, which came up with the concept, and the Ohio Department of Development Minority Business Enterprise Division will test the program in 21 counties, with plans to roll the effort out across the state next year.

The goal is to find start-up companies that can benefit from being surrounded by a network of service providers who will do everything from helping validate the company's innovation, to preparing a business plan that will look attractive to investors, to helping find that first client.

Those accepted into the program must demonstrate how they will increase annual sales by over $15 million in the next three to five years, and show they have the potential to create more than 50 local jobs.

A key component of the program is helping companies find investors to fund their growth, so participants must also demonstrate the ability and desire to raise money from sources other than traditional banks.

Participants must also have a significant competitive advantage, such as a patent on a new product or process, or an exclusive license or business relationship that is difficult for the competition to duplicate.

The program is open to minority-owned companies, or any company based in an inner-city location and likely to employ inner-city workers.

Darrin Redus, president of the JumpStart Inclusion Advisors division, said there are deeply rooted needs for a program such as Launch100.

''The landscape for minority businesses, not only in Northeast Ohio and the state but across the country, is principally smaller scale companies,'' Redus said.

Historically, minorities did not have access to the capital necessary for larger businesses, so their endeavors tended to be small service-oriented ventures.

But in today's global economy, tiny operations can't compete for supplier contracts with corporations, Redus said. As large companies fight to remain competitive, they are looking for vendors and suppliers that can handle bigger and unique projects.

''That need for more capacity is almost systematically eliminating minorities because they don't have that scale,'' Redus said.

With a stable of experts behind them, however, promising businesses could get the help to grow into ''true competitors,'' Redus said, bringing wealth and jobs to Ohio communities.

In Cleveland to help kick off the program Thursday, Gov. Ted Strickland called it ''a critical component of the economic revitalization plans for Northeast Ohio. This program is designed to support the growth of minority businesses that have the potential to not only expand operations in the state, but also create good-paying jobs for Ohioans.''

Green, who has been working out of his North Hill home, said so far he has relied on community volunteers and assistance from JumpStart to help him do everything from make prototypes to write a business plan to take pictures for his brochure.

But Launch100 could help him take the next big step — move into a manufacturing facility and begin taking orders.

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