Youngstown’s business incubator relies on model of sharing to grow

November 25, 2009


YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Craig Zamary has four full-time employees, but because of where his company is based he says it feels more like 300.

“I can reach out to the other companies here and know that they will share their expertise with me,” said the owner of Green Energy TV. “Just as they know they can ask me to do the same for them.”

Zamary describes Green Energy TV as the “YouTube of the green movement” as it takes videos from around the world on innovations in the alternative energy industry. The company also has an agreement with Transit TV, which provides video feed for buses run by the Los Angeles County Transit Authority.

Green Energy TV is one of the business-to-business software companies in the Youngstown Business Incubator’s portfolio. This nonprofit corporation acts as a base for small startups to grow. The incubator currently has a portfolio of 28 firms with around 300 employees, eight of which are resident here in downtown Youngstown. Incubatoor CEO James Cossler (above) explained that startups become resident when they start generating revenue.

The biggest company in the incubator is Turning Technologies with more than 130 employees.

Cossler said the incubator focuses exclusively on business-to-business companies for a particular reason.

“We didn’t want to have a broad range of industries that we couldn’t serve properly,” Cossler said. “We wanted to pick one sector and be a world class incubator.”

He said that one condition for startups to come to the incubator – and receive benefits and resources including deferred and reduced rent and paid utilities for furnished offices – is that they share their expertise and resources with the other companies here even after they “graduate” move out.

Zamary gave an example of that sharing principle, which he said took place not long after Green Energy TV moved into the incubator in early 2008. He told one of his fellow business owners that he was having some trouble with code for his website and the next day that business owner turned up with the code he needed.

“I was wondering what he was going to bill me for it, but he said ‘that’s not how we do things around here,’” Zamary said. “Some day if he needs something from me I’ll be able to repay the favor.”

Cossler said that the other benefits of moving into the incubator are that office space here costs $8 per square foot, compared to $200 in Silicon Valley, while “programming talent” costs about 60 percent more in California than in Youngstown. There are also several universities within an hour’s drive of the city, which can provide young talent for startups.

The incubator currently has three buildings in downtown Youngstown and will have a fourth in mid- to late 2010.

“It’s absolutely realistic to expect that within a few years we could have 2,000 to 3,000 people employed here,” at the incubator or around it, Cossler said. “This could be very powerful and very transformational for Youngstown.”

Photo by Brian Snyder

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