Technology & Business Center takes over management of James City County Incubator

Managing the incubator

Managing the incubator:  Staff of William & Mary's Technology and Business Center (from left) Vicki Clarke, office manager; Leonard Sledge, director of economic development; William Bean, Technology and Business Center director.

William & Mary’s Technology and Business Center (TBC) has entered into a collaboration with the James City County Economic Development Authority (EDA) to take over management responsibilities of the James City County Business and Technology Incubator. Bill Bean, TBC director, says the William & Mary affiliation is an extra boost to the incubator’s goal of accelerating the growth of local new businesses.

“What William and Mary brings to the incubator is access to a universe of resources,” Bean said. “The primary resource is the Mason School of Business. (Mason Dean) Larry Pulley is on the EDA Board for James City County; they view it as another way of the Mason School being engaged with the community.”

Many of the Mason School faculty get involved with incubator clients, and vice versa, Bean said. “Quite often, professors will invite our clients into their classes,” he said. “Then they ask questions: ‘Why did you start this company? What is your business model? Why have you chosen that?’ And then, the professors often get their students involved.”

The incubator now serves several clients, operating out of offices at 5300 Palmer Lane. Bean noted that the incubator serves four categories of companies and has at least one client in each category. 

Phenom Technologies, for instance, is in the incubator’s Academic Program. Phenom was started by Gunter Luepke, professor of applied science, and two of his students. The Phenom start-up is an attempt to commercialize fuel-cell technology developed in the research labs at William & Mary. Incubator staff have helped the Phenom partners with applications for federal funding from the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. 

Other categories serve international firms, such as Malaysia-based MODU Systems, a manufacturer of conveyer belt systems, trying to get a start in the U.S. or established U.S. companies, such as the New Jersey-based American Flag and Flagpole, which want to relocate in James City County. Each type of client has its own set of needs, but there are some needs that are common to all.

Michael Vahey is the CEO of Breathe Healthy, a vendor of washable microbial face masks. Breathe Healthy is one of the clients in the incubator’s Business Incubation Program.

“If I didn’t have the incubator, I’d still be trying to do this out of my garage,” Vahey said at a September open house for the incubator and its clients. “That works OK for a while, but with this office space of my own, I end up concentrating on business more and get a lot more done. And, the incubator staff keeps me focused.”

In addition to office space, the incubator clients all have two needs, Bean said. The first is access to capital and Bean works to introduce clients to a variety of potential sources for capital. To address the second, Bean once again draws on the knowledge and wisdom within the Mason School.

“Almost nobody really understands the many complexities of sales and marketing,” he said. “If you read any start-up business plan, that is always the biggest gap.”i