|Walt Chappas' office in the NC State Technology Incubator is barely large enough to fit his desk and a couple of tables of test equipment. But he wouldn't want his start-up company, Allasso Industries, Inc., anyplace else right now.
Built on technologies developed by College of Textiles professor Dr. Benham Pourdeyhimi, Allasso produces imaging equipment to analyze the quality of nonwoven fabrics. It has been based in the incubator since getting started nearly two years ago. "There couldn't be a better place to commercialize these technologies than right here on campus, just a block away from Dr. Pourdeyhimi's office," Chappas says. "This is a slick little deal."
Originally managed by the North Carolina Technological Development Authority in smaller facilities on Centennial Campus, the 18,000-square-foot incubator is now managed by NC State's Industrial Extension Service (IES), which traditionally helps larger manufacturers improve their operations. "In addition to our traditional role, it's a logical extension of our mission to assist small companies that create jobs," says Gene Fornaro, IES director of business development.
Twenty-one companies are now housed in the incubator, which includes 46 offices in Venture Center II and 10 labs in Partners Building II. Sixteen previous tenants have grown enough to "graduate" into larger spaces off campus. The facility provides small offices and labs with flexible leases to accommodate the growth that often comes in fits and starts for fledgling companies. Tenants also share administrative resources--a receptionist, conference rooms, copy machines, and kitchen.
Open since 1999, the incubator plays a critical role in recruiting corporate partners to campus and in the network of business and academic relationships that exist there, Centennial Campus officials say. In addition to providing an outlet for start-ups, it gives larger firms a chance to check out emerging technologies.
Potential customers often pop into Allasso's office, for example, after meeting with College of Textiles faculty or visiting the Nonwoven Cooperative Research Center that Pourdeyhimi heads. "We get in front of more people here than if we were out by ourselves somewhere," Chappas says.
While the incubator's lab space remains almost full, the slow economy has dampened demand for office space, now only half full as start-ups choose to remain in their "garage phase" longer to save money, Fornaro says. That creates a challenge for IES to cover the expense of running the facility, so officials are investigating opportunities for financial support for the incubator until demand for space from NC State spin-offs and affiliated companies picks up again. "Like our tenants, we're new to this business and are going through some growing pains," he says. "But, just like them, we expect to be successful."
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