Business incubation: Turning innovative research into commercial success By Lesley Kistner he nation’s nearly 23 million small businesses represent 99 percent of all employers, create two-thirds of new jobs and generate nearly half of private sector output. They are clearly the backbone of the economy. For all the established small businesses that are creating jobs and helping to fuel the economy, however, a significant number fail. According to the Small Business Administration, 7 of 10 small businesses will survive at least two years; but just 51 percent will survive five years. Despite the best efforts of many would-be entrepreneurs, the hard work, commitment and comfort with risk necessary to turn a great idea into a viable business doesn’t always guarantee success. Insufficient experience and lack of capital are often cited as the top reasons many businesses don’t succeed. This is where incubation programs can play a key role. Incubation programs help start-up companies through the high-risk phase of development within a business friendly environment, thereby reducing the risk of failure. T A PA Chamber local chamber partner, the CBICC has operated its business incubator for 30 years. What started in a former elementary school building in 1983 now operates out of the Technology Center at Penn State University’s 38 CATALYST SUMMER 2014 • www.pachamber.org The incubation model meets a variety of needs, from increasing employment in economically distressed communities to serving as investment vehicles to fostering commercialization of university technologies. The latter model embodies the focus of the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County’s business incubator companies, many of which are research-driven bio/life sciences and high-tech start-ups. In fact, a 2012 National Business Incubation Association study found that 87 percent of graduating firms from NBIA member incubators are still in business. Novasentis employees manufacture electromechanical polymer actuators that deform, vibrate, create sound and sense pressure. The core technology was developed at Penn State University and has been optimized to point of winning the Consumer Electronic Show Best of Innovation Award in 2014. [Novasentis is a CBICC incubator company.] Innovation Park, a facility co-owned by the university and the CBICC that also houses a full complement of Penn State Technology Development programs and services. The Technology Center is home as well to Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Penn State’s Office of Technology Management (which facilitates the capture and licensing of intellectual property,) the regional Small Business Development Center and the Innovation Park Office. Incubation provides a broad range of services specifically tailored to entrepreneurs and their start-up companies. These services include business mentorship; access to financing and technical assistance; common support services, including mailing and office machines; access to financial and technical resources; and as is the case with CBICC’s incubator, an outstanding address at Innovation Park located within a Keystone Innovation Zone and first-class space, including all utilities, at a reasonable cost.