After more than five years of discussion, study and preparation, Bowie’s business incubator is on the verge of reality to help local small businesses grow and mature by providing office space at discounted rates, office equipment, mentoring and business guidance and advice.
“We don’t think of it as inexpensive space,” said Lisa Smith, executive director of the Bowie Business Innovation Center. “We think of it as smart space.”
Sometime in February, estimates Smith, phones will be installed in the center, which is located in the business school at Bowie State University. Then small businesses will begin moving into the 12 individual offices, which are large enough for several employees.
Besides those 12, Smith said there will as many small business affiliates not in office space that come in and use the facilities and receive mentoring. There will also be a wide open area where cubicles are for small businesses only requiring a desk.
The businesses that have applied to be in the incubator program tend to be entrepreneurial and those that offer professional services.
Smith said she has helped start five other business incubators in Maryland, and that are now about 30 in the state. “Maryland is a national leader in this field,” she said. “We will offer these small businesses advice and guidance with marketing, business planning or HR, whatever they need.”
The incubator project began more than five years ago when Bowie City Council members and city officials were looking for ways to encourage local business growth. The city spent about $140,000 on a feasibility study, which Smith conducted.
Bowie is spending another $50,000 to fund incubator operations. About $75,000 in county funding for the incubator was obtained by Bowie’s representative on the Prince George’s County Council, Ingrid Turner (D-Dist. 4).
Smith said Washington Savings Bank has signed on as a corporate sponsor, and other corporate sponsors are being sought. “Our goal is to make this a public and private partnership,” she said.
Small businesses will be part of the incubator program for 12 to 18 months, said Smith. Then, it would be time to leave the program, she said. “We will help them focus and grow. When they do something and it doesn’t work out correctly, we will ask them why. We will nudge them along the way.”
Ultimately, the purpose of the center is to provide Bowie with more successful, taxpaying businesses, she said.
“This initiative is just a smart way to solidify the business base by growing your own companies that will be rooted in the community,” Smith said.