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Nashville Business Incubation Center strategic review advances
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NASHVILLE Business Incubation Center (NBIC) is conducting a feasibility study that could lead to the doubling of its capacity for tenants and mentoring.

NBIC is overseen by the board of nonprofit Growth Enterprises Nashville (GEN) and operates as a program of the College of Business of Tennessee State University. Spurred partly by an economic-development grant from TVA, NBIC began operations in 1986 at its current location, 315 10th Avenue (37203).

Valerie Hayes

The findings of a formal of the feasibility of designing and building a new NBIC facility are due out in April, according to three NBIC representatives interviewed by VNC on Jan. 27. The executives who were interviewed were GEN board Chair Valerie Smith Hayes (national director of technology, Deloitte); GEN board member Mendy Mazzo (VP-business development, Skanska); and, NBIC Executive Director Mildred Walters, who is also a GEN board member.

NBIC recently entrusted the feasibility study to Greenwood Consulting Group (GCC) of Sanibel, Fla. The contract value is $28,000 and Greenwood was chosen through a competitive RFP procurement process, Walters told VNC. GCC Principal Jim Greenwood has long been associated with incubator development and with the nonprofit National Business Incubation Association (NBIA), based in Athens, Ohio.

The NBIC currently has 20 tenants and has room for six more companies in its current facility. It has thus far been home to at least 78 young companies and during the five-year period 2006-10 "businesses served by NBIC" annually generated an average of 86 jobs and total revenues of $3.5MM, according to information provided by NBIC. NBIC alumni include some well known Nashville startups, including Beacon Technologies, Zycron, Christie Cookie, Trackpoint Systems, Transcender and others.

The facility feasibility study now underway could result in further expansion or relocation of the center to accommodate 50 or more firms, if that proves economically feasible, the NBIC representatives said. NBIC's website and literature stress the organization's close ties with TSU; but, NBIC stresses that TSU affiliation is not required for consideration for a client berth in the incubator.

A year ago, NBIC conducted a peer-to-peer assessment of its operations, priorities and resources. The long-term adequacy of NBIC's physical plant was questioned during the peer review; however, NBIC got high marks regarding its selection of tenant-owners, its assessment of NBIC's impact and its governance, according to NBIC's 2011 stakeholder report.

In that same stakeholder report, NBIC management said that in addition to its goals of improving business viability and economic development within the region, NBIC seeks to expand services; improve its capital fundraising and endowment; expand public-private partnerships; revise its business model; and, if feasible, relocate its operations to a new facility. (VNC research found that earlier this month TSU asked the State Building Commission to cancel an earlier TSU request to repair the NBIC roof at a cost of $300,000. Simultaneously, TSU asked for more than $1MM for student-housing, parking and stadium upgrades. (Following publication of this story this morning, NBIC Chairperson Valerie Smith Hayes explained that in anticipation of relocating, a less expensive roof fix was accomplished.)

The earlier NBIC peer-review process identified opportunities for NBIC to provide more followup support for companies that graduate from the incubator; to improve data-communications infrastructure and equipment; and, to obtain more input from the greater Nashville corporate community and other organizations.

In Fall 2011, NBIC informally explored a potential alliance with the Nashville Entrepreneur Center (EC), but no formal agreement between the two nonprofits has yet been executed, Walters said when asked by VNC. A decision on that relationship is likely within six months, she added.

Meanwhile, NBIC is considering creating a "package" of business services to market to its tenant-owners. And, NBIC is considering marketing itself as the venue-of-choice for startups after they complete EC mentoring. Under one scenario discussed, EC tenants would be required to enroll in continuing education offerings at the EC, Walters noted.

VNC has previously reported on NBIC's need to discontinue, due a popular-but-taxing business-plan competition that it conducted in 2006 and 2008; and, reported on the center's push for additional tenants.

GEN board members in addition to those mentioned above include recent appointees Blessing Oguguam (VP, Wells Fargo Bank), Perri duGard Owens (a consultancy registered as Perri Owens Public Relations and dba PAOwer Team Consulting), Karen Thompson (Asst. VP-HCA), and Diana S. Wynne (former CrackerBarrel SVP-corporate affairs, now owner of Wynne/Wynne Healthy Solutions).

Dean Curry

Also, TSU College of Business Dean Tilden Curry (Ph.D., 1978, urban and regional planning, Florida State University), Dale Jones (owner of Paul Mitchell the School-Nashville in Antioch), Ken Looney, Ph.D. (TSU assoc. VP-academic support), Terriance Moody (founder, Dream Systems), Lee Molette (financial advisor, Molette Investment Services), Rachael Qualls (founder/CEO, Angel Capital Group),  8th Circuit Court Judge Hon. Carol Soloman and Blenda Williamson (Dialysis Clinic, Inc.). VNC research indicates Curry has been TSU business dean since 1986.

M. Walters

Walters, a TSU employee who has led NBIC operations for nearly a decade, also conducts a personal life-coaching practice, mainly serving small-business owners. She was previously TSU director of public service and was earlier a senior fundraiser for United Way. She also previously served as a TSU professor of human-resource management, according to her Linkedin profile.

Walters earned her master's in public administration at TSU and earned a bachelor's in secondary education at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. VNC

 

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