Business Incubator Signs First Tenant

December 10, 2004
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ZEELAND — He knows how to design the product and assemble it.

Now, as he weighs the future of his small company, ErgoQuest Inc.’s Jeff Vanden Bosch is looking for help with learning all the other aspects of running a business: finances, sales, marketing, production and distribution.

It’s why the 35-year-old Vanden Bosch decided to move into the Lakeshore Business Garden, a business incubator operated by the economic development group Lakeshore Advantage that provides low-cost office space for start-up businesses.

More importantly, Vanden Bosch said, is the additional support he’ll get at the Business Garden: Mentorship from a local businessperson who will help him guide his company, plan for the future and monitor his progress.

“I know I needed help putting together a good, solid plan,” he said. “Certainly by having influence and help from people who have been there and done that before and being involved with them was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Vanden Bosch, whose small company produces office furniture for people with disabilities, moved his office into the Lakeshore Business Garden last month, becoming the business incubator center’s first tenant.

The center provides low-cost office space that starts at $250 per month for a single cubicle, plus $100 per month for each employee. In addition to the cubicle, tenants receive high-speed Internet service, local telephone service with voicemail, access to copy and fax machines, use of a conference room and a shared receptionist.

Lakeshore Advantage’s goal in creating the Business Garden is to provide start-up businesses and entrepreneurs with affordable office space that solidifies the company’s cost structure for a year, as well as support them in a variety of ways, including mentorship.

Lakeshore Advantage President Randy Thelen cites data from a national trade association that 80 percent of all new businesses fail, while 80 percent of the companies that use an incubator succeed.

Quite often an entrepreneur who sets out on his or her own has the ability to bring their dream forward and create a product or service, Thelen said. What they need is a well-rounded business acumen that they can learn through the support of a business incubator center and mentorship of others who have become successful in business, he said.

“It’s almost impossible for someone to have all aspects of a business covered with their own talents,” Thelen said. “Here you can begin to fill the voids in the entrepreneur and they can begin to have a much better chance of success. You can avoid the pitfalls others have fallen into.”

At the Lakeshore Business Garden, tenants are matched with a mentor who monitors their business plan and progress on a regular basis. Tenants are initially provided a one-year lease, which is reviewed at the end of the term.

Thelen said he’s talking to several potential tenants for the Business Garden and expects answers early next year from two possibilities. The center has 5,000 square feet of office space available.

The Lakeshore Business Garden operates similarly to The Whetstone in Muskegon, a business incubator operated by the economic development group Muskegon Area First. The Whetstone is presently home to three small companies and has helped a handful of firms launch and move out on their own since its opening a few years ago.

The Whetstone has found that the mentorship of business leaders in the community and the networking with other small business owners who lease space there is just as important to entrepreneurs as the low-cost office space, Muskegon Area First President Jim Edmonson said.

“That’s the true value of incubators. You actually get two levels of support,” Edmonson said.

That support from others has ErgoQuest’s Vanden Bosch looking ahead as he settles in at the Lakeshore Business Garden.

A Holland native who began designing furniture for people with disabilities while earning a master’s degree in architecture at the University of Michigan, Vanden Bosch said he wants to grow the company and hopes to tap the expertise of mentors available through the Business Garden. He said he now is feeling much more confident about the future.

“It’s just gives me a feeling of optimism that I didn’t have as much before,” he said.    

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