Casper’s business incubator has a revamped building and first tenants; now it’s about to take another step forward by partnering with the University of Wyoming Technology Business Center.
The assistant director of WTBC, Joe Bennick, begins as director at the incubator in August. He has been working with the WTBC chief executive officer, Jon Benson, to develop a plan for Casper. Benson’s mission is to develop a program at the new Casper Area Innovation Center that focuses on “early stage” companies with growth potential.
In a question and answer session with the Star-Tribune, Benson described why Casper should be a fertile ground for developing new businesses in an incubator setting.
Q: How does an incubator work?
A: An incubator provides space, access to shared services and management advice. Then what we hope to do is help a business grow larger faster than they would otherwise. The powerful thing is you share the same space as the clients. You interact all the time. You can walk down the hall and we can talk. It helps build close relationship with companies. We can see problems when they occur and have an impact on a company.
Q: What kind of businesses benefit from an incubator?
A: I think almost any kind of company can benefit from this. Certainly the client has to be open to suggestions; if they think they know it all we can’t have much impact. We work with early-stage companies. Some just started their business and some are in process of development. We don’t work with retail clients because in retail, location is important
Q: Does Casper have unique characteristics and possibilities?
A: I think it’s a great business environment with a lot of entrepreneurs. A lot of business people I’ve met are the best. Casper is dominated by business activity. I think that energy industry should lead to the spinout of other companies
Q: Are Wyoming incubators different from those in other states?
A: The difference is whether the area is rural or urban. In rural areas, not only do you work with the companies you have, but you have to engage in activities to stimulate new startups. In urban areas you see a lot of companies; you have “deal flow,” which means you see a lot of different startups. A disadvantage is that you don’t get any money from people you’re working with outside the building.
Q: What do the clients of the incubator pay?
A: It’s a service fee, but it’s comparable to rent, $14 a square foot per year. We add a lot of value to the space. It’s not only the business and management advice, but being around other people. They stimulate each other. Once the Casper [incubator] gets up and going, it’ll have a lot of energy to it, a lot coming in and out.
Q: How will you staff the Casper incubator?
A: We’ll have a three-person staff – Joe Bennick [the director], a business counselor and a receptionist. The incubator clients share the receptionist. We want to get some students from Casper College to work in that position, maybe three. Students are bright and very energetic and if you have three of them, you have full-time coverage. They get good experience and develop relationships with companies. Sometimes we’ll charge by the hour to a client to help with administrative tasks and for us too.
Q: What is the Casper committee looking for in accepting a business for the incubator?
A: We have a selection committee that interviews the client prospects. We look for somebody who would like to build a business and their prospects are to grow a $3-to-5 million business with a 10-to-20 percent profit margin.
We put together a business concept paper -- a mini business plan. Everybody that we tend to work with is a business selling to another business. When you do that you’re solving a problem for them. The more important that problem is to them and more differentiated you are from the competition, the more they pay and faster you grow.
You’re answering the question: What business problem are you solving, and why buy from you and not someone else.
Q: What are some of the success stories from the Laramie incubator?
A: Our first graduate was Falcon Technologies, which had a five-year growth rate of over 400 percent and was named to Inc. Magazine's 2009 Inc. 5000 list as the 686th fastest growing company in America and the fourth fastest growing company among computer hardware firms.
Q: What should a person do who wants the help?
A: Call or send an email; we talk with everybody. Even if a situation that doesn’t fit, we like to talk to everybody.
Jon Benson’s contact information is: 307-766-2030 or email@example.com.