Chicostart ready to incubate regional tech startups - Chicostart
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Executive-in-residence Kevin Kinell gives a pre-construction tour of the city office space that ChicoStart will occupy. (Jason Halley/Staff Photo)
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By LAURA URSENY-Staff Writer
POSTED: 06/12/13, 12:00 AM PDT |

CHICO — If ever there was a time when support was in place for a great tech idea to take off, it’s now.

ChicoStart is getting ready to launch a local incubator to cultivate tech jobs by nurturing start-up companies.

For one- or two-person start-ups, the idea of a desk or phone in a quiet, private place that’s not a house or the library can be a big boon.

Run by the nonprofit Innovate North State, ChicoStart has the support of the city, which is allowing it to occupy a vacant portion of the City Municipal Building, 411 Main St. Chico State University is also involved.

And if a recent open house was any indication, there’s a lot of interest in the concept right now.

ChicoStart executive-in-residence Kevin Kinell, who helped run the open house, said there’s interest in the current business sector and in fledgling start-ups. He’ll be the one on tap to answer questions and counsel start-ups.

“We probably had about 60 people here for the open house. It was nonstop. Some were Innovate North State board members who wanted to see this space. Others were people with questions who were interested in the idea,” said Kinell, who was an executive at software company Auctiva before it was sold to a company in China.

Kinell’s been involved in Chico tech companies for more than 15 years, and is consulting with several local tech firms.

What visitors saw at the open house will be nothing like the finished version, construction of which will start after Innovate North State signs a lease with the city for the space.

The City Council has already approved the concept.

The space once rented by the county had been dedicated to gym and meeting space for city employees, so the area is already somewhat furnished. City Council members noted the space has been available for lease for a couple of years with no bites.

At least five letters of intent have been received by Innovate North State, Kinell said, both to show interest in the concept and to screen potential occupants. Qualifying tenants will pay a membership fee according to their needs.

Kinell knows tech start-ups need this kind of support. He’s also been involved in the Chico Tech Group, which was created to grow tech jobs and tech job opportunities.

Start-up tenants will receive a variety of services, from high-speed Internet, networking, to access to venture capital events, to Kinell and North State Innovation’s expertise.

It’s also a chance to brainstorm with other entrepreneurs, who’ll be near.

But this is not a long-term arrangement, Kinell noted. It’s a chance for a start-ups to get on their feet and then leave. “We want to help you grow out of here,” said Kinell, stressing that businesses won’t be kicked out before they’re ready, but room needs to be made.

It’s hard to know how many start-ups could be attracted by the facility.

Because of his experience with tech, Kinell can also suggest ways a start-up could progress or avoid problems.

Office arrangements will vary from a niche with a certain number of promised desks to a cafe-style open seating area to be used on an hourly or more basis.

There is a conference room for meetings and video conferences, a kitchen, printing services and a mailbox cluster. High-speed Internet over secured Wi-Fi is available.

The space will be available on a 24/7 basis, with extra security measures put in place on doors leading to city offices.

Chico architect Steve Gonsalves, chair of Innovate North State, is producing the tenant improvement drawings. Construction will be done by various contractors that Innovate has contacted.

Gonsalves said the lease with the city will be signed this week, and over the course of its five years, about $46,000 will be paid to the city.

Under the terms of the lease, the city is entitled to any additional revenue generated by the ChicoStart program above Innovate North State’s management and operating expenses.

“Based on the level of interest we are seeing from the tech community, we expect the city to receive additional revenue from the lease,” Gonsalves said.

Kinell can be reached for information on the ChicoStart program at kevin@innovate-northstate.com.