Jobs + Business Growth
KNOWLEDGE PARK WILL BE A SUCCESS IF:
Knowledge Park incubates, launches, attracts, and grows knowledge economy businesses.
Expand the Capacity of the Technology Incubator
Consolidation of Entrepreneurial Resources
Creation of a Landing Space
Enhanced Programming and Resources for OSSE, and Diversify Client Companies
Financing Tools and Incentives for Businesses and Entrepreneurs
1. Expand the Capacity of the Technology Incubator
The Technology Incubator is the most valuable resource offered to the entrepreneurs in Knowledge Park. Currently it handles all programming for entrepreneurs, helps get businesses ready to launch in Knowledge Park, and acts as a hub for all things innovation in the community. In order to further foster an entrepreneurial mentality in Knowledge Park the breadth of reach for the Technology Incubator must be expanded first and foremost by adding two additional full-time employees. Additional man-hours in the space will allow the Incubator to take on more projects, offer more programming and continue to catalyze the development of businesses making it the most effective tool for home grown economic development.
2. Consolidation of Community Resources for Entrepreneurs
As it stands, the resources for entrepreneurs are scattered across our community which make them difficult to access by startups. If all of our resources for startups were in one location, Knowledge Park would offer a stronger network to its entrepreneurs to better connect them with the resources they need to achieve success. With the Technology Incubator being the cornerstone for all things entrepreneurship in Knowledge Park, the committee wants its next step to be the One-Stop-Shop for Entrepreneurs (OSSE). For instance, if businesses are looking for legal help who can they be connected to that is ‘startup friendly’? Creating the OSSE will put all of these resources in one location making them more readily available for entrepreneurs and then open doors for synergistic efforts among the existing entities that are there to promote home-grown economic development. Some examples include co-locating the SBDC, the Technology Incubator, co-working, and the landing space.
3. Creation of a Landing Space
A landing space is a must-have for Knowledge Park in order to keep growing the start-up scene as well as to recruit other headquarter companies to relocate to our area. The landing space serves two equally important functions.
Provide a space for startups/early stage companies to temporarily house themselves until they’re ready to move into their own office space.
Offer a temporary spot to headquarter companies looking to relocate to Knowledge Park and need a place to operate out of until their new headquarters are constructed.
The committee is seeking a sizeable facility (+20,000ft²) in order to accommodate these companies. Landing spaces are something that has been extensively studied by this committee as well as the Technology Incubator. They act as a key component to successful homegrown economic development initiatives as can be seen by the NEXT Center in Greenville, Flagship Centers in Charleston, and the multiple innovation centers in Chattanooga. Pooling companies and startups in a single location creates a cluster of resources to be available to the entrepreneurial community in Knowledge Park. To be clear, the “ask” from this section is to find properties that could serve as the landing space.
4. Enhanced Programming and Resources for the Entrepreneurial Community
The next step our committee wants to take is to develop better programming and resources for entrepreneurs in Knowledge Park. In the more immediate future, the Technology Incubator is participating in the MIT/VMS Mentorship Program. This program is the best of its kind and came highly recommended for us to join by the NEXT Center in Greenville, currently the only affiliate in the state. NEXT informed our committee that this is the most valuable resource they have to offer their entrepreneurs and is something for the Technology Incubator to jump on right away. This affiliation has a one-time license fee and also requires on-site training at MIT in Cambridge, MA. Also, stage “Startup Weekend Rock Hill” which has been a massive success around the globe and has produced multiple successful companies.
Explore program and resource opportunities to become more intentional about diversifying our client companies (to include those start-ups and local companies owned by African Americans, Hispanics, women and veterans). One example of this could be the hosting of a Black Tech Expo in Knowledge Park. Models and funding for this type of opportunity currently exist.
Note: To expand opportunity for black entrepreneurs, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced $1.2 million in new support for Code Fever’s Black Tech Week and related programs throughout the year. They are seeking other areas who have similar priorities. We will also utilize the many resources found in the Black Enterprise publication to meet the needs of African Americans who make up 38.6% of Rock Hill’s population, as we enhance programming and resources.
5. Financial Tools and Incentives for Entrepreneurs and Businesses
Lastly, the committee examined multiple ways to create incentives and financial tools for entrepreneurs and businesses in Knowledge Park.
One of the leading ideas has been to create a financial pool that can be used for a few different purposes. Here are the proposed purposes of this fund:
Fill financial gaps for startups.
Micro-loans with pool size of $50,000 annually and a maximum of $5000 per loan.
Startup services (i.e. connecting entrepreneurs with a ½ pro-bono; ½ normal collection for services).
City incentives -- $250,000 annual fund for home grown economic development and HQ recruiting (i.e. specific office upfitting, landing space rent, professional service fees, etc.).
We should also utilize the Opportunity Zones federal program to promote, coordinate, and assure these incentives are received by all knowledge park developers and investors.
City Council is asked to approve a staff proposal to expand eligibility for the Facade Rehabilitation Grant Program from the downtown core to the full Knowledge Park area. As redevelopment efforts expand into additional locations, this program can assist with exterior building improvements. Additionally, staff recommends that sign expenses should not be eligible for reimbursement going forward, unless a sign is some unusual architectural statement.
Another key item is to continually search for and write grants as needed for OSSE & entrepreneurial services.
Our committee also looks to create a Founders Fund designed as a way for entrepreneurs who come through our programs to pay it forward to the next generation of entrepreneurs. This fund acts as a catalyst to fund other services at the OSSE. This fund is critical for creating a network of entrepreneurs who pay it forward and help promote more home grown economic development
Again, to be intentional about diversity and inclusion, we had a subcommittee who conducted research and found the following: The big misnomer is that there is no shortage of black talent in technology.
People of color want to be included in the tech space as policymakers and coders and are looking for spaces to grow their current tech startup and/or gain access to funding to start their own tech companies.
People of color are looking for cities, counties, businesses and corporations looking to build relationships, establish partnerships and growth strategies for Black entrepreneurs and startups that will bring shared value to their communities domestically and internationally. We want to create incentives to attract existing African-American owned businesses to Knowledge Park to spark interest and awareness of opportunities so that people of color in Rock Hill can begin to see this industry as a viable option for them.
We can heighten exposure and awareness to Rock Hill’s Knowledge Park and help close the gap in recruiting Blacks in technology, entrepreneurs and startups that might be looking for a home.
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