The Business Innovation Group
Approximately four years ago, four powerhouse organizations came together in one place creating the Business Innovation Group (BIG) to leverage their resources and collectively improve the greater Statesboro area. That place was Enterprise Zone, and it remains the central nervous system of City Campus.
“What does that do for Statesboro, our region, or even the southeast?,” Steve Stewart, Assistant Professor in the College of Business said. “It allows us as a university to offer the southeast the opportunities of an incubator and a FabLab combined with an academic setting… to increase their likelihood for survival.”
Stewart paints a picture of an eager entrepreneur who tries to start a business on their own, and through one of many reasons, fails and shutters their doors.
“Now this business is heavily in debt, relationships are torn,” Stewart said. “These stories are, in essence, the norm.”
BIG, Stewart explains, provides immediate networking with people in marketing firms who could have given the entrepreneur advice, accountants who can establish strong financials at the business’s inception beginning, and ethical people for loans or an assessment of their weaknesses in that area.
“Think about the Enhanced likelihood of success in that environment,” Stewart said.
Located on 58 East Main Street in the heart of Downtown, the E-Zone features classrooms, communal office space, kitchenette for receptions, and a state-of-the-art video conference room. A Wall Street-style stock ticker rounds out the space’s modern appeal while the original exposed rafters reminds entrepreneurs of Statesboro’s hardworking roots.
The Small Business Development Center (SBDC), part of the University System of Georgia, provides low cost training and free consulting services including business plan development, market analysis and marketing strategies, financial analysis, legal help, and preparation of loan submissions.
The Bureau of Business Research and Economic Development (BBRED), BIG’s research arm, conducts applied research on community and business development in the greater Statesboro area. A recent, BBRED project with Metter schools helped recognize potential in unused school buildings, converting one school into a Boys’ and Girls’ Club and relocating a branch of the GBI a wing of another.
Georgia’s Enterprise Network for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (GENIE) and the Center for Entrepreneurial Learning and Leadership (CELL) also work together in the space advancing student participation and linking small businesses in rural Georgia to resources at Georgia Southern University, and to funds by the US Community Adjustment & Investment Bank. GENIE clients receive technical assistance from business advisors, receiving the same developmental perks as Incubator Clients.
If it can be dreamed, it can be prototyped at the FabLab. The Business Innovation Group (BIG) begins construction shortly on the project, putting Statesboro and Georgia Southern on the map with the first FabLab outside of Georgia Tech.
The facility will feature a state-of-the-art Stratasys Mojo 3D printer and a suite of computers running Solidworks, a 3D printing and design software, inside of a “clean room,” designed to keep the technology safely away from the grit, sparks, plasma, and grime of the “dirty room,” housing the fabrication side of the project.
“We’re really excited about universities that have teamed up with people who are trying to make appendages, making arms and hands, and things that actually work…there’s a lot of different things that you can do with [3D Printing],” Suzanne Hallman, Business Advisor at BIG, said.
A MIG welding bench, CNC foam and woodcutter, CNC waterjet, and CNC plasma cutter are to inhabit the dirty room, rounding out the facility’s fabrication capabilities.
Those wishing to use the space will have to purchase a monthly membership to offset the cost of consumables such as 3D printing material and welding gas.
“If there’s anyone who wants to make a component that will really help someone in their day to day life, that’s really cool, it’s just a matter of how we turn it into a business,” Hallman said.
The Innovation Incubator is the dedicated place at City Campus for entrepreneurs. Housing up to 20 new businesses at a competitive market rate, The Incubator turns Statesboro into a place for start-ups to thrive.
“We’re creating that ecosystem, that synergy for business, for people that are like-minded entrepreneurs to work side by side and collaborate, to get that creativity going,” Suzanne Hallman said.
Physical benefits for members will include: a business address, mail management, controlled access to a secure building, meeting room use, WiFi, and access to AV and shared office equipment while on site.
Membership in the Incubation isn’t just a room and a copier though, BIG provides a whole suite of developmental services to get startups off the ground including advisement and leadership assessment, business consulting and technical assistance, access to University professors, and student research. BIG hosts training classes as well, ranging from webinars, to full programs and workshops.
BIG assists business with market research and financial projections, a service that pairs well with their access to banks and investors.
“The Business Incubator helps startups in what we would consider a very vulnerable time,” Stewart said.
Located just behind the FabLab and Innovation Incubator, the Art Incubator is City Campus’s most collaborative project. A partnership with the Averitt Center for the Arts, the Art Incubator does for studio artists what the rest of City Campus does for small business: provides the most straightforward route to success, with as much help as a person could dream for.
The Art Incubator takes advantage of funds written into the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant funding the FabLab and Innovation Incubator for repurposing the space currently housing the Averitt Center’s Dance programs, which will be moving to the new Center for The Performing Arts, the Averitt Center’s other current expansion, located on West Main.
The Roxie Remly Center for Fine Arts’, as the Averitt’s Executive Director Tim Chapman calls the Art Incubator, first floor will house a large ceramic studio fully equipped with multiple kilns, throwing wheels, slab rollers, hand building tables. Immediately adjacent is a fine arts studio for teaching painting and drawing.
It’s the second floor that really gives the Incubator its name though, containing several studio spaces that artists can rent at low rates to create pieces.
“What we’re trying to do is give a studio artist a space thats economical so they can set up their business,” Chapman said. “It’s the same concept as the entrepreneur zone. Artists don’t just rent the studio space, they have access to all those resources next door at the E-Zone.”
Artists gain two retail spaces to test-market their products. The new Performing Arts Center on West Main will have a retail space for artwork in the front gallery, and the Averitt Center has a verbal agreement with Vineyard Vines in Savannah the work created and sell what they believe will work best in their Market District location. Chapman also envisions hosting ceramics sales in Viracon Alley, near the Incubator.
“The corridor… is a very important component to the zone, we want everything to feel like you’re inspired and thinking innovation when you come in,” Chapman said.
With glass donated by the local Viracon factory, a high-performance architectural glass manufacturer headquartered in Minnesota and supplying glass for the new One World Trade Center, the Business Innovation Group (BIG) is creating a covered outdoor corridor and entertainment space between the FabLab and E-Zone, where BIG is housed.
The space will not only include ample room to host events, but The Averitt Center for The Arts has submitted a grant to the National Endowment for the Arts to transform the space with the addition of several sculpture pads and other displays to showcase artwork produced in the nearby Art Incubator and FabLab, making the foot-traffic only Alley even more of a destination.
“The glass itself is an art installation in it’s own right,” Averitt Center Executive Director Tim Chapman said.
The glass serves as a way for City Campus to emotionally connect back to Georgia Southern’s student body. Fully rigged with lighting, the structure will glow a soft white most nights of the year, but on graduation, or when Georgia Southern hits the gridiron, Viracon Alley will light up blue, occasions Chapman envisions hosting collaborative Averitt-GSU events featuring outdoor music, and other programming.
Dominating the eastern wall of Viracon Alley is an interactive “Living Wall,” a 30- by 11-foot vertical garden funded by a grant from The Center for Sustainability using student sustainability fees. The project is currently staffed by two students and City Campus employees. Once construction is completed, the wall is to be totally maintained by students.
“There’s a lot of excitement about the edible component for the vertical garden,” Andrea Wilson, City Campus point person for the Living Wall Downtown Project said. “How cool would it be if you have class down here to come by and grab and apple, whatever, go to class?”
Students interested in working with the Living Wall should contact Abbie Pelech, a sophomore engineering major and a member of Southern Leaders working on the project at [email protected]