By LAURA URSENY-Staff Writer
POSTED: 02/23/14, 12:00 AM PST | 0 COMMENTS
CHICO — Eight businesses now call ChicoStart their home literally away from home, finding inspiration in an incubator program designed to help start-up operations in downtown Chico.
Student Stock, a business to help student photographers turn professional, was the first tenant last fall.
“We moved in on the first day possible,” said chief operations officer Michael Agliolo, a local professional photographer and Butte College photo instructor.
“I guess that tells you something.”
Agliolo said the company was launched in 2013, and moved into ChicoStart by the fall, setting up their computers in a southwest corner of the area. Besides the office space, the small firm prizes the high-speed Internet connection and ability to be introduced to potential investors, Agliolo said.
At ChicoStart, start-ups from one person to a team are getting mentoring, access to equipment, utilities and office space, plus inspiration nearly 24/7.
They can banter with other start-ups and compare notes on what works and what doesn’t, meaning they don’t have to reinvent the path.
ChicoStart was introduced in 2013 by Innovate-North State, a local, private, nonprofit economic development organization that sprang from Chico Economic Planning Corp.
The nonprofit worked with the city to lease unused city offices at 411 Main St. at a discount, setting up a security system that keeps current city offices secure while giving 24/7 access to the remodeled incubator space.
A corner formerly dedicated to treadmills for city employees now serves as a large conference room. Nearby are individual work stations that provide privacy — and access to the coffee pot.
The idea behind ChicoStart was to answer start-up needs for professional work space, meeting space, technology access and mentoring.
Not every kind of new business can get access. Project manager Larry Lane, who is one of two paid staff people at the center, said the incubator focuses on businesses that are technology-based and can grow jobs for the community.
Space and services are available at different levels and different prices, from $50 to $550 a month. Services range from nothing more than getting a mailing address, to using a fully equipped conference room, to dedicated offices, printers and high-speed Internet connections.
While there are eight businesses using the space, there still is room, said program coordinator Wendy Porter.
Part of the benefit is access to investor and educational events that are offered on a regular basis. One, called “Spring Training,” is coming up Feb. 28.
Lane and Porter report to Jon Gregory, head of Innovate-North State and a longtime economic development leader in Chico.
In addition to Student Stock, other members include Coffee Table, TopFox Designs, OnFarm, Housing Tools, Hampton Maxwell, CR-Gold and Work Truck Solution.
Lane said start-ups have a tough time with the basics, from utilities to confidential meeting spots. For one amount, a start-up can enjoy those kinds of accommodations at their convenience or just one element like a desk and a chair.
But what might be more valuable is the mentoring through programs and speakers, as well as possible assistance with financing. The program founders have access to venture capital programs and experts, and know what catches investor interest.
One of the strengths of ChicoStart is helping businesses get to a point that triggers investor interest, Lane said.
Involved in ChicoStart are local professionals and organizations like 3CORE, Chico State University, Peter Straus of Center for Entprepreneurship, among others.
Kevin Kinnell, who was an early manager for ChicoStart, is still involved as a mentor but has linked with the Student Stock business.
Sponsors at various levels include Quorum Technologies, Allevity HR and Payroll, and the city.
Gregory still maintains contacts with angel investors and venture capital funds that triggered Venture Island several years ago.
Lane encourages anyone with ideas to contact ChicoStart to see if the incubator might be a good starting point.
Information is also available at www.chicostart.com.
Contact Laura Urseny at 896-7756, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @LauraUrseny.
ChicoStart opens first mentoring program to entrepreneurs
CHICO — ChicoStart will offer one of its first start-up mentoring programs with the Feb. 28 “Spring Training.”
Set in a speed-dating format where participants move from expert to expert, the program gives start-ups, entrepreneurs and others an opportunity to improve their elevator pitches and develop their companies.
Business entrepreneurs and industry experts will advise participants about how to improve their companies and their ability to link with investors.
The event is at 3 p.m. at the ChicoStart office, 411 Main St. Ste. 101, at the Chico Municipal Center ground floor.
Register by Tuesday at www.chicostart.com/springtraining.html or from Wendy Porter at ChicoStart, 1-530-924-5089.
There is no cost for the event, but ChicoStart members are given preference.
Winners will be determined in best marketing potential, most innovative concept and most unique business models.
The best companies will be invited to pitch at Sierra Nevada Innovation Awards on April 2. Information on that is available at www.innovate-northstate.com.