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YOUNGSTOWN Seeking a staff of tech experts



Published: Sat, April 27, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The downtown incubator wants to add consultants to attract entrepreneurs from outside the area.

By DON SHILLING

VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR

YOUNGSTOWN -- The Youngstown Business Incubator still is looking for cash to complete its plan of making Youngstown a haven for technology businesses.

The Federal Plaza incubator started a $4.9 million fund-raising campaign last summer but had to place it on hold, said Jim Cossler, incubator director.

Raising money was so difficult that it now is working with Marcus Thomas, a Cleveland area marketing firm that has an office in Austintown, on developing a new campaign.

Included in the plan is raising a $3 million operating endowment, which would allow the incubator to put experts on staff for its tenant companies.

The missing piece

Having these experts is critical in order to attract entrepreneurs to Youngstown, Cossler said.

The incubator staff has worked for three years in assembling the physical resources it needs to attract fledgling technology companies, but the consulting component is missing, he said.

To get entrepreneurs to come to Youngstown, the incubator must have both physical resources and consulting services, he said.

Cossler wants to attract entrepreneurs from other areas because he doesn't think there are enough here to support his vision of having 50 technology companies with several hundred employees each.

Cossler said he thinks reaching that goal within five years is possible.

By the numbers

The state-funded incubator, which provides free rent and services to tenants, has 12 companies with a total of about 100 employees.

Of the nine technology tenants, four of them have had sales of more than $1 million. All nine have been operating for two years or less.

The first expert brought in by the incubator was Patrick Gaughan, a Chicago consultant who has moved to this area. With money raised locally, the incubator is paying him to work 80 hours a month with incubator tenants on legal work, business plans and strategic planning.

With an operating endowment, the incubator could bring on board a marketing expert to help tenants decide which markets their products would best serve and a financial consultant to assist in setting up financial structures within the company, Cossler said.

Akron example

The incubator also is looking around the country at what is working elsewhere.

Michael Le Here, director of the Akron Industrial Incubator spoke to the Technology Leadership Council at the incubator Friday on the successes its had. The leadership council is made up of local officials who are trying to improve the environment for technology companies.

The Akron incubator has 24 tenants with about 100 employees, but since 1983 it has had 60 companies that grew large enough to leave and now employ more than 600.

Le Here praised the local incubator and said there was little if anything that he could teach local officials about building a successful program.

U.S. Rep. Thomas Sawyer, an Akron Democrat who is vying to represent the Mahoning Valley in a reconfigured 17th District, encouraged local officials to stick with their efforts to support technology businesses.

"None of this came quickly and none of this came easily. It's long, hard, tough work," said Sawyer, who came with Le Here because he was mayor of Akron when its incubator began.




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