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Ohio State incubator enables startups to grow

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The OSU Endeavor Center in Piketon, Ohio provides workspace and training programs for recent startup businesses. Credit: Courtesy of Ryan Mapes

The OSU Endeavor Center in Piketon, Ohio provides workspace and training programs for recent startup businesses. Credit: Courtesy of Ryan Mapes

When Steve Barbarits and his team began InSolves, a firm specializing in nuclear-site cleanup, in 1993, the office was housed in Barbarits’ father’s basement. The small staff faced a lot of the challenges of a startup — from obtaining capital to marketing to large clients without having lots of prior experience and finding ways to keep costs low.

Today the firm employs almost 250 people, Barbarits said, and works across three states. The administrative offices and the firm’s manufacturing facility are housed in the Ohio State Endeavor Center, which assists local start up businesses.

The center, located on South Centers in Pike County, houses 25 office spaces as well as training rooms and a computer lab. Ryan Mapes, the Endeavor Center’s manager, said that the university benefits from the Endeavor Center because it brings a lot of people through the door in Piketon.

When the facility first opened in 2005 the main goal was similar to typical business incubators — providing a space for new businesses to grow, Mapes said.

Mapes said that by providing services, such as Internet access and office space, the center helps companies save on costs that might otherwise keep them from being successful.

The Endeavor Center also houses the Small Business Development Center, an office which provides business training and consulting in the community, Mapes said. The office meets with people who want to start businesses as well as those who wish to grow existing small businesses. Mapes said the Small Business Development Center focuses on helping businesses in three areas: money, marketing and management.

“It’s a free consulting service,” Mapes said. “It is working with that company one-on-one to find a solution to whatever their needs are.”

The Endeavor Center works with local economic-development offices and chambers of commerce in the surrounding counties in order to reach out to local businesses, Mapes said. Companies who want to become partners must go through an application process where they have to evaluate their goals. The application then goes to the Endeavor Center Council, a conglomerate of university and community members as well as current startups at the center.

Rick Wagner, general manager for InSolves, said the staff and management at the Endeavor Center helped facilitate the company’s growth. He said because of changing government regulations, the nuclear-cleanup industry is dynamic, and the center has helped the firm adapt to that. The company would not be agile without the center, he said. He added that startups housed at the center are considered partners with the center, which helps the companies succeed.

Barbarits said that the competitive lease fees the center provides allow the company to be competitive and in turn hire more people in the community. Additionally, the opportunities to network with other companies at the center has allowed InSolves to grow.

“The flexibility of the Endeavor Center — they’re like family to us, they’re part of the business,” he said. “They are always willing to help us, very accommodating and in addition have the small-business trainings.”

Mapes said consultation helps companies with their finances, such as obtaining capital and consolidating debt, as well as with personnel management. Trainings allow companies that are not yet partnered with the center to get useful business advice and also learn more about the center.

“Usually (the training) means a two or three dollar-an-hour pay raise for those people,” he said. “High school students are now entering the workforce with something that says, ‘I’m certified, I can do this.’”

Mapes said going out and working in the community helps bring OSU more visibility and promotes a positive relationship with the community. Mapes said he believes the community and the partners benefit due to the tremendous amount of free information that the Endeavor Center and the university provide.

“It’s a place where people can network,” he said. “It’s a place where partnerships can develop. If you look at InSolves, they started as a two- or three-person company and have now grown here at the university. It’s the access to knowledge that is the No. 1 benefit to the community.”

The Engaged Scholars logo accompanies stories that feature and examine research and teaching partnerships formed between The Ohio State University and the community (local, state, national and global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources. These stories spring from a partnership with OSU’s Office of Outreach and Engagement. The Lantern retains sole editorial control over the selection, writing and editing of these stories.

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