A-State Innovate opened its garage in July and now its shop is ready for business. The program, administered by the Arkansas State University Delta Center for Economic Development, hopes to spur entrepreneurial and business growth in the region, A-State Innovate Director Ty Keller told Talk Business & Politics.
The program has 25 clients to date and the goal is reach about 100 on a consistent basis.
“It’s going really well right now,” he said.
Someone with an idea for a product may bring it to A-State Innovate and the organization will use its resources to develop the product into a viable business, Keller said.
A-State Innovate has three facilities – the Garage, the Lab, and the Shop – to aid entrepreneurs. The Garage is located in downtown Jonesboro inside a leased building. It has 3-D printers, maker spaces, screen printers, wood working tools, and other technology implements.
The Lab is located in the biological sciences building on the ASU campus. It’s basically a science lab, offering entrepreneurs a broad range of tools. For example, if a person wanted to make broccoli that tastes like it already has cheese on it, the lab would be the place to experiment on that. It has wet labs, incubation spaces, and other implements. The Shop is located in the Jonesboro Industrial Park. All types of tools used in manufacturing including welders will be located in the Shop, Keller said.
Delta Center Director Shawnie Carrier told Talk Business & Politics she’s been surprised by how many entrepreneurs have sought information on how to develop their business models through the program. She said Keller has spent a lot of time working individually with clients to develop business plans and product prototypes, and she hopes the interactions will accelerate in the coming months.
The Delta Center received a $500,000, I-6 Challenge grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to seed the program. The organization was able to leverage the grant with other partners, such as Nucor Corporation, to acquire more than $1 million in equipment and in-kind labor commitments.
Keller is paid $90,000 per year. The Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s Manufacturing Solutions pays $70,000 of that salary. The total investment is close to $2 million, Carrier said. She also noted that the program is slated to operate off grants through March 2019, and by then she hopes it will be self-sustaining.
Industries in the area have to hire outside companies to build prototypes, and other industry specific “widgets” to meet production needs, Keller said. He’s hopeful many of those companies will buy a membership with A-State Innovate and have those products made in Jonesboro.
It might also lure industrial developers from out of the area. It could be more cost-effective to pay a small fee and develop a product there as opposed to buying the equipment and producing the product in-house, he said.
The idea is to model it after the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub in North Little Rock. The hub charges membership fees for individuals and for corporations. A membership for the Garage is $50 per month, while a Garage and Shop membership is $75 per month. Teams of up to three members can get a membership to the Garage for $105 per month, and both facilities for $140 per month. High school and college students and military veterans may get a half-off discount. Space in the lab can be rented.
A-State Innovate has several things to accomplish this year. Keller wants to start a mentoring program to connect entrepreneurs and community professionals. Woodworking, coding, arts and crafts, metal, and other workshops may be offered at some point, he said.