Center helps small businesses

Joe Carlson

Students of Marshall University High probably never dreamed that one day the room they struggled to stay awake in for classes would be the home of more than 100 local businesses, including a few massage therapists and an Internet service provider.
The University Technology Center, which is not financially affiliated with the University, is located in the former high school building at 1313 Fifth St. on the northern outskirts of Dinkytown.
“We liked the old-style building, the somewhat less formal brass-in-glass,” said Kirk Hoaglund, chief operations officer at Larson and Hoaglund Inc., a business in the center.
Barry Bosold, president and general manager of the center, said the center is designed to help entrepreneurs start businesses and then work with the owners to ensure their success. He said that although the architecture of the building is traditional, his business that operates inside it is not.
“We are different than a traditional, landlord-tenant facility,” Bosold said. Although the center is a for-profit company, it goes above and beyond what is normally expected of similar businesses.
“We have the capacity to completely service a business,” Bosold said. “We have some one-piece offices where we provide everything,” from phone and Internet services to business cards and copying.
Those who operate businesses inside the center say that the center’s services allow entrepreneurs to concentrate on more important business matters than fax paper.
“For small businesses, it provides a lot of the little pieces that you need to keep your business running,” Hoaglund said.
The center is often described as a business incubator, to the point where businesses located in the center even provide for one another’s operating needs. For example, Larson and Hoaglund provide Internet service to about 15 of the building’s tenants, in addition to the businesses it services outside the facility.
Bosold said the idea behind a business incubator is to help fledgling businesses succeed. “The traditional definition is an environment that is specifically designed to provide start-up services to businesses that might not make it on their own,” he said.
But he said that this definition does not encompass the entire mission of the center.
One of the major differences is that the center will take financial risks on tenants with little or bad credit. Therefore, if an entrepreneur has a good idea and good intentions, Bosold might rent space to them regardless of their financial history.
The capacity to move a business within the building is another way that the center is different from traditional incubators.
For example, a new business might only need a small office space when it first moves into the center, but if it becomes successful, it will probably need more space. But instead of having to move out of the building, like it might in a traditional businesses complex, it can move into a larger space within the original building.
“We have companies that have done that five or six times,” Bosold said.
In general, the technology center is more understanding of special business needs.
Wilderness Inquiry, a nonprofit organization that plans camping trips for large groups of people of all ages and abilities, keeps much of its camping equipment in the basement of the center. Many business centers probably would not allow this practice, said Jennifer MacLeod, outreach director at Wilderness Inquiry.
“It’s been really helpful for us to be able to expand,” she said.
Such practices are part of the entire mission of the center, Bosold said. “It’s about working closely with businesses that have changing needs.”
Another expanding business in the building is the University Language Center. It started out with about 800 square feet of office space, and now occupies about 3,000.
“It’s been the perfect place for me,” said Karen Houle, founder and president of the language center, which among other services provides six-week crash courses in French, Spanish and German.
The intensive courses, which cost about $1,600 and require three hours a day, five days a week, is designed for students who need to pass the proficiency exam. She said about 80 percent of students pass the University exam the first time, and the remaining 20 percent come back for additional instruction because the center guarantees that students will pass the exam after taking the course.
“The University of Minnesota graciously created a market for me about six years ago without knowing it by making students be proficient in a foreign language,” Houle said.
“It’s been a great place for my business.”