New incubator to help business startup efforts

July 6, 2009
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Bing Goei agrees with the studies that show cultural diversity is essential as an economic engine.

“We need every tool in the toolbox to help revitalize our state and economy,” said Goei, owner of Eastern Floral.

“There are so many studies that just keep reinforcing the idea, and yet we give it a lot of lip service but don’t do much with it beyond the conversational stage.”

To help get beyond just talking about it, Goei has formed the International Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence. ICEE is an incubator focused on women- and minority-owned startups. It will be located in Eastern Floral’s new corporate headquarters, which is being built at 818 Butterworth Ave. SW.

“One of the ways in which we can strengthen our economy and make this a more welcoming community for the talents around the world is (for women and minorities) to see people like themselves who are successful economically,” he said.

“For them it is, ‘Oh, if they can do it, I can do it and my children can do it.’ For me, part of that is to have many successful women and minority businesses in this community.”

Through his own personal struggle to build a business in West Michigan and from hearing similar stories from others, Goei was led to the idea of ICEE.

“We’ve got to find a way to create a support system that encourages minority- and women-owned business to stay in West Michigan,” he said.

Goei noted that many organizations say they will help anybody regardless of cultural background, but he believes that does not go far enough.

“The problem with that is, for those who have felt the pain of exclusion because of race and gender, that isn’t enough. We need to develop programs in this region and even in the state that are very intentional — and stating it to be very intentional,” he said.

“For example, if you were a person of color and you had to make a choice between an organization that says, ‘We welcome anybody’ — and those are just buzzwords for them because of their own experiences — or an organization that says, ‘We are here to help specifically, but not exclusively, women- and minority-owned business. We understand what the barriers are and we will wholeheartedly help you overcome these barriers,’ who are you going to go to?”

Businesses within ICEE will receive support services such as consultancy, financial services and technology support. They will also have access to shared administrative support, and will receive reduced or subsidized rates for rent and services for a maximum of three years. After three years, companies may apply to remain in the ICEE space.

Companies receiving benefits from ICEE are required to participate in business counseling and mentoring, attend roundtable discussions and chamber of commerce networking events, and give periodic progress reports to the ICEE board.

ICEE is not exclusive to women- and minority-owned businesses.

“We are saying to those who want to start or accelerate their business here in Grand Rapids and West Michigan that we are a place where you can get below-market rates. In this environment, you will receive support from everyone who is here. We will work with you to identify ways to overcome the challenges that you face,” said Goei.

“If you come and you don’t run a good business, we’re going to tell you that you don’t run a good business and that you ought to get out of it. But what you will know for sure is that you will never have to doubt the fact that you were not successful because of your gender or race.”

While ICEE is still in the beginning stages, it has garnered support from business people and organizations alike. At the time of the interview, four people had signed on to ICEE and Goei was in conversation with others.

Goei said that once the new Eastern Floral building is finished, the effort should speed up.

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