Roaring Fork Business Resource Center: a virtual business incubator
Post Independent Contributor
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Most people associate the word “incubation” with babies, but Stephanie Keister, marketing and operations manager for the Roaring Fork Business Resource Center in Glenwood Springs, says businesses sometimes need help to grow and thrive.
A business incubator, she said, “is a way for a start-up business to get capital and advice.”
The concept of incubating a business is the same as that of a baby chick or a child: nurture its development, especially during the start-up period. Programs provide business support services and resources tailored to each entrepreneur, according to the National Business Incubator Association, with common goals such as community job creation, business retention and diversifying local economies.
Colorado is home to at least eight business incubators. Most are a sort of entrepreneurial hub of individual businesses under one roof or on a campus. Grand Junction’s 23-year old Business Incubator Center, for example, houses 54 companies, including a commercial kitchen for local growers to prepare food for sale.
The Roaring Fork Business Resource Center (RFBRC) is unique. Its campus is a website with all kinds of resources. In other words, RFBRC is a virtual incubator.
“It’s a new model,” explained Keister. “It allows start-ups to stay where they are and offers help to more than just businesses in offices.”
The center offers face-to-face consultations, but the website is key.
“Part of this is putting together a small business while raising a family or working full-time,” said Keister. “We keep the virtual space because a lot of people go online at 2 a.m.”
Randi Lowenthal, former director of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, founded RFBRC three years ago. The turning point, said Keister, was when the nation’s economy crashed in 2008.
“There was a huge void valley-wide of having business guidance for start-ups,” she said. “The chambers of commerce only work with established businesses.”
Lowenthal decided to fill the void. RFBRC set up shop at 817 Grand in Glenwood Springs in July 2009.
The center is funded by state and local governments, business sponsorships, private contributions and in-kind donations. A network of attorneys, accountants and marketing professionals serve as advisors.
Lowenthal and Keister, the only full-time staff, have helped more than 70 new businesses get a start, and have provided business counseling and marketing advice to more than 50 established enterprises.
“Some businesses never had to market themselves until the economy tanked,” explained Keister. Others wanted to expand or were ready to sell. In the past year and a half, RFBRC has helped find over $500,000 for its clients.
“We’ve had a steady stream of people coming in,” she said.
Here’s how it works.
First, the potential client calls RFBRC to figure out business needs. Then comes a free consultation at the office.
“We figure out the client’s needs, what the relationship [with RFBRC] will look like, and the fee structure,” she said.
If an entrepreneur is referred through the Small Business Development Centers of Colorado, the counseling is free. If not, clients pay $50 per hour. “We meet on a regular basis until the client’s goals are met,” Keister said.
Businesses such as Biorganix in Carbondale, Blue Sage Landworks in El Jebel, Mountain Grommets, a family home child care center in Basalt, and Aloha Mountain Cyclery in Carbondale got their start with RFBRC.
Lowenthal and Keister guide clients through the maze of marketing, public relations, and social media. The center also helps clients find funding from banks, private investors, and crowd-funding sources such as Kickstarter.com.
“We inform our clients of what opportunities are out there and how to [use] them,” Keister said.
Keister said art and creative businesses are a hot ticket at the moment.
“The state of Colorado is focusing on creative industries,” she said. The RFBRC would like to see towns in the Roaring Fork Valley become known as artist communities, just like Santa Fe, Key West, or Provincetown, Mass.
“How do we convey to the world that Carbondale has so much going on in this way?” asks Keister. “We want the world to know that this is the place to come.”
This fall, RFBRC will offer workshops at Colorado Mountain College about what it takes to start a small business. Keister encourages entrepreneurs-to-be to visit the website or call the office.
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