The Lake Martin Innovation Center is not even three years old and it is ready to send its first graduates out into the world.
The idea behind the innovation center is to help entrepreneurs and small businesses get off the ground. For Kelly Adams and her startup, Beyond Home Care, the center provided a place to start with known expenses but more importantly a network to better grow her business.
“The support here has been the biggest thing,” Adams said. “Having a small business and not knowing anyone, they helped introduce me to all kinds of people to help my business.”
Beyond Home Care helps match families with someone to help with non-medical care of loved ones.
Adams said the all-inclusive rent is great as she knows her exact costs. Between the help with the overhead and networking, Adams said her business has grown.
“It was great helping balancing overhead,” Adams said. “We started with just me and one other employee. Now we are up to 45 employees. Not all of them are full time but we are providing 800 hours of care a week.”
Networking to help the new business owners get their companies off the ground by introducing them to business gurus was the plan according to Alexander City Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Ed Collari, but another type of networking has developed in the building as well.
“It has been great to see the tenants networking amongst themselves,” Collari said. “We didn’t see the collaboration among the tenants when we were planning this. It has been great to see the personal and professional relationships growing.”
Startups are not the only businesses in the innovation center. Collari said Chris Teeters reached out to the center as Teeters was trying to acquire a Servpro franchise for the area.
“We are mainly about startups,” Collari said. “We had the warehouse space in the back that would work for (Teeters) to obtain the franchise. Servpro is not a new company but they were new to the area. He got the franchise and it has started to grow. He has gone from one employee to two, then four and five and I believe he is up to eight now. That’s our goal is to help them grow.”
Teeters is proud to call the innovation center home for now.
“It has been great,” Teeter said. “(Servpro) is new to Alexander City. The center has helped with networking. They have really helped promote us and the other tenants here.”
Collari said two tenants have moved on to locations in Coosa County and Auburn as the business model evolved but that is OK with Collari. One of the spaces was rented out to a business already in small office looking to grow – the private equity firm Lowden Street Capital.
Lowden’s managing director Matt Bean said the Alexander City innovation center and its variety of spaces has been great.
“We went from the smallest office to the biggest,” Bean said. “Our firm is expanding and adding employees.”
Bean said Lowden Street Capital specializes in purchasing businesses in rural areas whose current owners need the equity from the business to retire.
“The owners net worth is the business,” Bean said.
The 12 tenants of the Lake Martin Innovation Center are not the only businesses using the center. Collari said The Bullpen is a co-working space for $50 a month that provides 24/7 access to the member with fiber internet access.
“We have had 40 or so members,” Collari said. “About 15 are active. We see an opportunity to grow.”
The success of the businesses in the innovation center has created an interesting problem for Collari as businesses seek to grow beyond the space available at the innovation center.
“We want to graduate them to the community, not somewhere else,” Collari said. “We are working with developers and owners of commercial space trying to find somewhere we can place the couple that are ready.”
Ultimately Collari and the Lake Martin Innovation Center want to see the businesses do well to provide for more than just inside the walls of the center.
“We want to see an entrepreneur come in with an idea and grow it,” Collari said. “We want to see them go from one or two employees to 20, 30 or more. We want to help get them to a place they can go out in the community and be a partner for growth there too.”