Innovation Incubator is a program of University of Michigan-Flint’s University Outreach. Focused on social entrepreneurship, innovation and economic-based ventures, it’s a place for people in the community to co-work, create and collaborate. It is located on the second floor of the University of Michigan Northbank Building.
“Incubator is a work space open to the community free of charge from 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday,” says Paula Nas, Interim Director of University Outreach. On Saturdays, the space is used to provide information to students about preparing for SAT testing, and also serves as a meeting space for community groups, such as neighborhood associations.
Many services are provided at Innovation Incubator, including technical assistance for business owners and entrepreneurs, free business workshops, help with business plans and legal issues, identifying a customer base, and taking ideas and products to market. Staff is available to assist people with starting a new business or a non-profit. “Our team is very devoted to this,” Nas reports. “We can also refer people who need additional help with legal issues, marketing or financial advice.”
Program Assistant, Nic Custer, is one of the staff members who does a significant amount of work with the entrepreneurs. “There are a lot of little steps,” he says. “We help move people forward, step by step and thought by thought. We want people to succeed.” According to Nic, who is a graduate of the entrepreneurship program there, Innovation Incubator works with about 100 businesses a year and there have been many success stories.
Nas, who taught economics at UM-Flint for 20 years, is very excited about what Incubator brings to the area. “We fill a need for support of Flint and Genesee County entrepreneurs and small businesses owners,” she reports. “It’s great for the community.” Innovation Incubator will be moving some of their services to Ferris Wheel Flint (a co-working space for startups, freelancers and professionals) to support their work with entrepreneurs. “We will work together,” she adds.
Originally funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, a new program (made possible by a grant from the Ruth Mott Foundation), Innovation Incubator on the Road, takes workshops to different neighborhood locations throughout the year. For example, Business Boot Camp sessions were held at Joy Tabernacle Church and Holmes STEM Academy; Session 3 at the Boys and Girls Club on April 3-7 included a teen component, and Session 4 will be held in June at Ashbury Methodist Church. Individual entrepreneur support will be offered an hour before and after each session. The five-part workshop series will culminate in a Celebration Event at Berston Fieldhouse on June 24. For more information about the workshop series, you can visit UMFlint.edu/Outreach/Road.
Also promoting economic growth is the University’s newly-founded Community and Economic Development (EDA) Center, for which The Outreach Center received a $400,000 grant to establish. “The Center will support economic development efforts in a seven-county region: Genesee, Shiawassee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Huron, Sanilac and Tuscola,” Nas explains. The overall goal of the new center is to coordinate, inform and contribute to economic development efforts that cultivate innovation and advance high-growth entrepreneurship needed to build and sustain a diversified economy throughout the region. University students are currently working to gather data for a website, which will hopefully be operating by the end of summer.
According to Nas, this is all happening at the right time with the right mix of people. And they have a great staff that is working hard to support economic growth. “We have staff, faculty, students and the community all working together,” says Nas. “For Flint, Genesee County and the seven counties, what we are doing here has been transformational!”
Photography by Eric Dutro