More than five years in the making, the nonprofit Bowie Business Innovation Center has taken on its first four resident businesses with the aim of coaching their owners and jump-starting growth.
Spawned from a feasibility study commissioned by Bowie five years ago to determine ways the city could foster small business growth, the innovation center finally began taking on clients in April.
The center offers clients affordable office space and equipment, mentoring and business plan support. It’s located in the Bowie State University School of Business, which has had lots of unexpected benefits, such as casual conversations between client companies and the business professors, said the innovation center's executive director Lisa Smith.
Bowie State is one of several partners in the innovation center. In addition to providing space for the program, the university can also assist with potential interns.
“We provide experiential learning opportunities for students,” said Smith of Bowie innovation center intern program.
According to Smith, the Bowie center is one of three business incubators in Prince George’s County, and the first to be run at a historically black college. It is also the only business incubator in the county that focuses on supporting innovative growth or personal service firms.
But the Bowie innovation center is about more than supporting the businesses accepted into the program.
“We are creating a cluster of activity so this is where businesses come,” said Smith, who has helped host monthly brown bag lunches that are open to the public and business counseling services provided by the MD-Small Business Development Center Network.
The innovation center selection committee meets every month to look at new potential clients. It evaluates the businesses to determine whether the center can add value to them. In addition, the committee looks at whether a business is growth-oriented and that is has a plan to eventually generate enough revenue to hire staff.
Currently, there are four resident companies who are renting space from center, although there is space for 11. There are also eight affiliate companies that are just starting.
The progression is for a business to move from being an affiliate company, to a resident company, to outgrowing the program, Smith said.
“Business incubation is a process,” said Smith.
This process, from identifying a business to the business' graduation from the program, will likely take about two years, Smith said.
Partners in the innovation center along with the Prince George's County Council, the city of Bowie and Bowie State, include the Greater Bowie Chamber of Commerce, the State of Maryland, Small Business Development Center Network and Maryland TEDCO.
This article has been updated.