In a former apartment, Kenmore has brought three new companies and more than 15 full-time jobs to the city.
The apartment is now home to the Kenmore Business Incubator, created by the Kenmore City Council a year ago.
The Council was interested in starting a business incubator because it knew there were lots of home-based businesses and technology companies in the area, said Nancy Ousley, assistant city manager for Kenmore.
“We wanted to get the message out that not only is Kenmore open for business, it is a city that values entrepreneurship,” she said.
Seven months after the Council first discussed the idea, the first tenant moved in — “some sort of land-speed record for government, putting something up to speed quickly,” Ousley said. The business incubator offers two important assets to new businesses, she said: reasonably priced workspace and business development assistance.
An office costs $250 to $350 per month, depending on space. A single desk costs $150 per month. The offices are already furnished, and the building has shared wi-fi, bathrooms, a full-size kitchen and a ping-pong table. The location has good parking, as well as access to transit and to the Burke-Gilman trail.
The business seminars include topics such as business planning, marketing, accounting and legal information, said Barry Weisband, program consultant for the city of Kenmore.
“We try to connect our folks to people who are external advisors, mentors, angels,” he said.
Startup businesses and new businesses that have a startup plan are eligible for the incubator; applicants need more than just an idea for a business, Ousley said. The business incubator is now home to three technology companies, but other types of businesses are welcome too. A fashion company is interested in moving in.
“I think that’s what companies who are involved in incubators really value — the opportunity to be around other businesses,” Ousley said.
ConnecteDevice Ltd., which makes wearable accessories that sync with phones, was the first tenant. The company now sells two “watches that basically save you the trouble of getting your phone out of your pocket,” said Ben Epstein, a software tester for ConnecteDevice. The watches vibrate or flash lights when you get a call or email.
Another company, Exato Game Studios, makes a video game called Guncraft, which combines the customization of Minecraft with the objectives of games like Call of Duty, said co-owner and business manager John Getty. Players can create custom guns, then use them to fight and compete with other players.
The third tenant, Synch, is a web and mobile application that helps product distributors manage inventory. For example, said co-founder and CEO Scott Dyer, a distributor can scan a barcode with the camera on his phone and search for products in stock. The app is used by the distributors who sell to Fred Meyer.
“We tell them immediately, with real-time information, whether it’s there or not” -- rather than disappointing the customer when a product is out of stock, Dyer said.
Synch helps customers and distributors be more efficient. In one case, a customer reduced a 20-step process to four steps by using the app.
All three companies say they’ve benefitted from the business incubator. Dyer, who values the incubator’s connections to community resources like universities and services like accounting, says Synch probably wouldn’t be in Kenmore otherwise.
“One, you save a lot of money in rent,” Epstein said. “You have business mentorship ... not only that, being in an incubator gives you a lot of visibility.”
Exato’s employees had been working out of Getty’s apartment until he found the business incubator. Not only has it given the company a cheap office space, it’s helped Getty make contact with someone who may end up investing in the company.
“That was definitely somebody I would never have met myself,” Getty said.
The Kenmore Business Incubator is halfway through a two-year pilot program, after which the city will decide whether or not to continue it. So far, it’s been successful, Ousley said: the city has new successful businesses and more jobs than a year ago. The city also encourages tenants to stay in Kenmore after leaving the incubator.
The Kenmore City Council has budgeted $238,000 for the two-year program, which doesn’t take into account the rent that tenants pay. The city is actively looking for grants to continue the business incubator, Ousley said.
A few months ago, Woodinville also considered starting a business incubator, which would have been geared toward new wine tasting rooms, in the old Woodinville schoolhouse. But when a survey showed that a $12 million bond to renovate the schoolhouse was unlikely to pass, the city dropped the idea.Ousley said she didn’t know of any other city-run business incubators in the area, although there are some business incubators headed by nonprofits and universities, she said.