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Small business incubator moves forward

By Rose Laudicina
Staff Writer

Orange County and the Town of Chapel Hill are teaming up to attract more small-business startups and entrepreneurs to downtown Chapel Hill.

The two entities, with the help of UNC, are partnering to create and help subsidize a small-business incubator located at 321 W. Rosemary St.

Last week the Orange County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to move the project forward by giving County Manager Frank Clifton the go-ahead to work with the town to sign the necessary inter-local agreement documents.

“Our goal is to nurture entrepreneurship,” said Steve Brantley, Orange County economic-development director.

While Chapel Hill is a desirable location for many small-business startups, especially those that come out of UNC, the space that is available is often too expensive for the startups to rent. With the lack of affordable locations for these businesses, the town and the county end up losing out as the businesses choose somewhere more affordable, which more often than not ends up being in Durham, Brantley said.

“I think there are a lot of entrepreneurs that are coming out of the university and graduating, and they have a lot of great ideas,” Clifton said. “They don’t need a lot of space, but some place bigger then a garage or their apartment,” he added.

Former Chapel Hill economic-development director Dwight Bassett recognized this loss and started formulating an idea for a small-business incubator when he was working with 3 Birds Marketing to help them find a bigger space in Chapel Hill so they could expand.

3 Birds Marketing occupies the space at 321 W. Rosemary St., formerly home to the nightclub Avalon, but has outgrown the office space. While the company wants to move to another location in Chapel Hill, they still have four years on their lease and could not afford to move into a new space and pay rent at both locations, Clifton said.

To help 3 Birds Marketing, the town came up with a plan to find a use for their former space – the home for the town’s first small-business incubator.

While the project is primarily being coordinated by the town, Orange County will be providing $10,000 each quarter to assist with rent for the facilities. In total, the county will provide $140,000.

“The tenants would be paying some rent,” Clifton said, “but we will subsidize rent for the small businesses as they start up and get running.”

Clifton said the space is ideal for a new business with an employee base consisting of the founder and perhaps one or two employees, and there will be room for six to eight of these companies in the 4,000-square-foot building.

“This is just for small, one- or two-person enterprises that need a place to start getting their business off the ground,” Clifton said.

Eventually, Clifton said he hopes the businesses that get their start through the incubator will invest back into the community by creating jobs and permanently locating in Orange County.

Aaron Nelson, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, said he believes the incubator will bring multiple benefits to the downtown community, from creating jobs to boosting Chapel Hill’s reputation for supporting creativity and innovation.

Nelson also said that while it will be great to have a place for innovators from UNC to start their businesses, he also thinks it will help draw people in from outside the university community.

“People want to be in a place that supports things like this,” Nelson said.

  1. Chris Weaver

    “the space that is available is often too expensive for the startups to rent.”

    If one was to follow this back to it’s root sources….they would find Government pinching each root hair.
    Government poisons the roots, while simultaneously providing the plot and looking like a Nice Guy doing it.
    Steve Brantley is doing yeoman’s work work with the rock garden he has been charged with Think of what he could do if Bureaucrats stopped making rocks.
    It’s just that simple but it is so routine it is forgotten.

    Price a start up, Price the permitting for a house, to clear a lot.
    Price the time in permitting.
    Weigh the Unified development ordinance, then weigh our neighboring counties.
    Yes, weigh…with a scale…I’ll help…it is right at 7 pounds.
    Alamance County’s UDO is under one pound.

    Price the loss of freedom and integrity..in having to ask to be subsidized by Government simply to negate the impact they have created for you as an individual.
    Pursuit of Happiness was never intended to be a passive activity, but neither was it intended that Government be an intrinsic obstacle in the endeavor.

    Chris Weaver