Entrepreneur hatches plan for Anderson business incubators
By Liz Segrist
Published Aug. 3, 2012
After building a 20-year career in telecommunications, Anderson native Craig Kinley wants to help other entrepreneurs in his hometown.
Kinley has been in discussions with the city and the county during the last nine months about developing two business incubators- one in downtown Anderson for startups in need of space and mentorship, and another with the county to fill the robotics workforce pipeline.
Both are part of Liberty Fellowship project to develop and build sustainable models that can be replicated state wide to assist with economic develop. Kinley is in the Liberty Fellowship “Torch” class of 2013.
Kinley is no stranger to startups. Since his return to Anderson, he has launched two ventures, his startup, WiProwess LLC, and his small business, the Growler Haus. The recently opened craft beer bar at 313 N. Main St. in downtown Anderson could bring the home brewed culture to Anderson.
Kinley hopes to help others start their own businesses.
The city’s incubator would likely involve renovating blighted buildings in downtown Anderson to make them suitable for incubator space. The building would need high ceilings, flexible space and lab options. Kinley continues searching for one that is large enough to fit his needs.
The city incubator would provide startup businesses with relatively cheap rent, as well as assistance with marketing or crafting business plans. “This would really help the downtown community and to stimulate the local economy,” Kinley said.
It could be similar to the Next Innovation Center, a Greenville innovation hub and incubator that nurtures high-tech, knowledge-based companies poised for potential growth. Lab 21, Scio Diamond, EDTS, Upstate Carolina Angel Network and Promo Pipeline are just some of the companies that have set up shop in the Next Center.
It’s more likely to reflect Spartanburg County’s Entrepreneurial Systems Program, which was created by the Economic Futures Group and the Spartanburg Chamber in December 2011. The program involves collaboration between the county’s entities to offer their resources and time to existing or startup companies. Entrepreneurs with an idea for a company or those already established can use space at the Spartanburg Community College’s Tyger River campus as an incubator.
Kinley will be the project manager for the downtown Anderson incubator. Both Kinley and the city continue to search for funding options, striving to build a private incubator. This is likely to be a three-year project before it’s fully established.
Kinley also hopes to work with Anderson County to develop a robotics incubator that could become a center of excellence in Anderson, attracting people from all over the Upstate and beyond.
Kinley plans for Anderson County to team up with Tri-County Technical College, Anderson University and Upstate companies with mechatronics and robotics programs. Students graduating from high school, college or those already in the workforce could attend courses at the Anderson robotics incubator in preparation for the manufacturing needs of today.
“This is more of an economic development project than an incubator,” Kinley said. “We will talk directly to the companies to find their robotics workforce needs so that we can build a pipeline of students and train them on the companies’ equipment.”
The incubator would require funding, the majority of which would likely come from participating companies, Kinley said. In return, the programs and the equipment would be tailored to the companies’ specific needs, like those of BMW, Michelin or Hitachi. Companies could then choose whether to hire these students.
Upstate companies have made efforts recently to instill apprenticeships internally, in collaboration with their local technical colleges. GE, BMW, ADEX Machining Technologies, Bosch Rexroth, United Tool and Mold, SEW Eurodrive, ZF Transmissions and Magna Drive Automotive have all instilled them. This Anderson incubator would help alleviate some of the pressure on companies to build their own skilled workforce for their robotics needs.
The implementation of this project is likely to take up to five years. The collaboration between educators, companies and the county needs to be defined and a location needs to be found. It will likely be near the interstate with infrastructure and loading docks already in place.