ETSU, TVA help fledgling businesses get off the ground

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

Tennessee Valley Authority is investing $200,000 into Phase II of East Tennessee State University's development of a business incubator, known as the Innovation Laboratory.
   The regional business incubator, located in the former Marine Corps Training Center on West Market Street, is the first in northeast Tennessee and is dedicated to high-tech and biotech businesses.
   Last year, ETSU renovated the training center to provide space for emerging technology companies. TVA's investment will be used to renovate another 4,000 square feet of building space, according to Lucha Ramey of TVA.
   "Typically our monies with business incubators are purely for the structural. We refer to them as 'building dollars,'" she said. "It's actually in the TVA Act that we have to be a spur of economic development in our service area. It's a legacy that we're very proud of and continue to work on."
   Joe Smith of ETSU said the training center building has been used to provide start-up space for several companies locating in Johnson City. "These are technology-based companies that stay with the incubator for a couple of years until they branch out and have their own place," he said. Four businesses are now located in the incubator.
   The mission of the laboratory is to link entrepreneurs with investors to help create technology-based start-up and spin-off companies. Business incubators offer entrepreneurs access to shared services, equipment, building space and hands-on management assistance.
   TVA Director Bill Baxter said the utility not only helps fuel the Valley's economy by providing low cost, reliable power, "but also by helping private companies create jobs through projects like the Innovation Laboratory. We intend for this project to help stimulate high-quality companies and jobs for years to come."
   The laboratory also provides full Internet connections and state-of-the art teleconferencing for virtual business incubation support to surrounding communities.