Businesses need somewhere to start out in life, and incubators are an increasingly popular solution. The new business incubator at Fairfield University aims to foster links with the community.
Entrepreneurship is a growing theme at Fairfield's Dolan School of Business. Three years ago, the school hired a professor of entrepreneurship. Then it began running business plan competitions among its students. "And then the question is where do you go next, right?" said the dean of the school, Donald Gibson. "We'd like them to actually make this idea a reality, so put your business plan into effect. And the incubator's really the next stage for that."
The incubator is a physical space -- 1,300 square feet in downtown Fairfield -- where entrepreneurs can work at a low cost. It's also a source of mentoring, networking and expert advice. The school's professors will be available for consultation, as will professionals from law firms and financial institutions that have sponsored the center. Gibson said, "The idea is to be surrounded by other entrepreneurs. You can bounce ideas off of them. Then tie you into this network of expertise."
The incubator is actually a partnership between the university, the town of Fairfield, and a local property developer. The diversity of its initial client businesses reflect that input. Dolan's Christopher Huntly has been shepherding the project toward its launch. He said, "We didn't want to be a traditional university tech incubator."
The three founding companies are a bakery, a municipal energy consulting business, and a designer of power saving gadgets. Two of the entrepreneurs are long-time local community members and one is a Fairfield grad student. According to Huntly, "A lot of schools will have a business incubator that's tied to the engineering school. So basically you start with some product that's in the lab, and then you commercialize it. Fairfield as a university is a very diverse place. We wanted that to be reflected in our business incubator. We certainly are working with companies that are tech-oriented, but we're also looking at ones that are more traditional kinds of businesses."
Huntly said the aim eventually is to host five of these early stage businesses. As they outgrow the incubator and hopefully begin to contribute to the economic development of the region, other startups should follow in their wake.