Research shows incubator program needed in Northwest Austin

Beginning this fall entrepreneurs in the northwest area of Austin may have a new resource to get their business ideas off the ground.

Concordia University Texas announced May 29 it will be moving forward with an incubator project to help accelerate the development of local business entrepreneurs, said Melinda Brasher, Concordia Communications Associate vice president.

"The Concordia incubator project, or innovation center, has great potential for supporting and promoting entrepreneurial spirit and small-business growth in this area," said Don Christian, future Concordia University Texas CEO and current dean of the College of Business. "We are excited to move forward in discussions with local entities for partnerships and space."

Incubator projects in the Austin area vary in the ways they help entrepreneurs—from providing seed money, expert resources and/or office space in exchange for equity or a percentage of ownership in the prospective company.

"The announcement of the Concordia University business incubator program is an important addition for Northwest Travis County to the Austin innovation ecosystem, well-known as one of the most vibrant startup ecosystems in the country," said Michele Skelding, senior vice president of global technology and innovation at the Austin Chamber of Commerce. "The Concordia University business incubator has the potential to further promote and drive economic activity, benefit businesses through access to academic resources, connect startups to capital and fuel job creation for Texas."

Brasher said the school based its decision on a study it performed with research firm Strategic Options Inc. during the spring. Concordia received a gift of $250,000 to fund the research and provide startup costs if the incubator project was determined to be a viable pursuit, she said.

The study focused on whether an innovation center, or incubator, was a viable option to help business entrepreneurs, especially Christian business leadership, in the community, she said. The study included suggestions for the best location for the program as well as potential partners, services, equipment and sources of revenue, she said.

"While there are a number of innovation centers in and around Austin, our research showed that the communities around Concordia are not necessarily being served by them," Strategic Options principal Kathryn Davis said. "Statistics show that small businesses have a greater level of success, nearly 80 percent, when started in an incubator."

Currently there are no business innovation centers located in Cedar Park or Leander, Brasher said.

"[Four Points, Cedar Park and Leander] would be able to take advantage of any [incubators] in the northwest corridor," said Kevin Lancaster, Place 3 member of Cedar Park's 4A Economic Development Sales Tax Corp. "There are all kinds of positives out there as far as where you are getting funding. It's just a matter of finding what's appropriate for you."

Concordia and Strategic Options conducted interviews with a variety of stakeholders, including city officials, area business leaders, high school instructors, directors of other incubators, and Concordia staff and students, Brasher said.

"The Concordia innovation center will provide direct opportunities for students to get hands-on experience with entrepreneurs and early-stage businesses," Davis said. "Students can assist entrepreneurs with the development of their businesses and can potentially commercialize their own product or service concept. The center will enable faculty to develop their own ideas or to work with entrepreneurs and bring the experience back to the classroom."

Brasher said staff will continue to refine the program's vision and location, with a final decision to be announced later this summer.