At 5, STCC's Technology Park a 'bustling beehive'

The Republican (Springfield, Mass.)
Sunday, December 19, 2004

By Marcia Blomberg

Maryellen Rooney Moreau was working full-time when she decided to take the plunge in 1999 and devote all her time and energy to her six-year-old company.

She moved into the brand-new Enterprise Center in Springfield Technical Community College's Technology Park and her educational products company has taken off.

Mindwing Concepts Inc. is one of seven business tenants in the company incubator in what is now called the Andrew M. Scibelli Enterprise Center, and one of 18 companies that have been nurtured to success in the old brick building.

After five years in operation, the center that was born from the disaster of Digital Equipment Corp.'s 1993 decision to pack up and leave the city, abandoning 320 jobs, is now a national model.

In 1993, then-STCC President Andrew M. Scibelli "saw the need to create something that would create jobs," recalled Thomas A. Goodrow, STCC vice president for economic and business development.

Earlier this year, Springfield Technical Community College won a top award for innovation from the Community College Futures Assembly, a national think-tank of educators, for the Technology Park and Enterprise Center.

And the college has created the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship to help export its model, and its first two conferences have drawn more than 150 participants each.

The Enterprise Center is one piece in a bustling beehive of activity across Federal Street from Springfield Technical Community College.

Tenants in the STCC's Technology Park, on 15.3 acres that was once part of the historic Springfield Armory, employ about 850 people with a total payroll of about $22.4 million.

Inside the Technology Park's gates is the 37,000-square-foot Enterprise Center, built in 1892 and abandoned for 20 years before it was revived.

In 1998, $3.9 million in renovations was begun to convert the old factory building into a business incubator.

The facility has seven tenants (soon to be full, with eight) with combined revenues of $2.7 million in the first nine months of 2004 and wages paid to their 46 employees totaling $1.2 million in the first nine months.

Moreau, who had been a professor of speech and language pathology at American International College and directed the curriculum at the Curtis Blake Day School at AIC, invented an ingenious set of tools - one looks like a puppet - with icons on it to help children organize their thoughts and write or tell a story.

When she moved in five years ago, Moreau had a business plan and had patented her educational tool, "but I didn't have people with a lot of expertise helping me, and the Enterprise Center provided that."

"It provided a place to be in an atmosphere of commerce, where everybody thought in terms of sticking to your business plan, and how to market things," she added.

MindWing's educational products are now in 7,000 classrooms across the country, including in Springfield, San Diego and Hartford, and the company has grown from just one worker (Moreau) to two full-time employees and one part-timer.

The business tenants, who pay a little more than $9 a square foot, share amenities that include a receptionist, conference rooms, a computer lab for training, fax and printer, and access to the Deliso Teleconferencing Center at a fee.

Moreau said she's glad to have a receptionist to greet her clients, and she's held training sessions in the conference rooms.

Tenants are surrounded by expert advice in the form of SCORE, a corps of volunteers that counsel small businesses; the Western Massachusetts Enterprise Fund, which provides financing and technical assistance for small businesses; the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network, which provides technical assistance; and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Deborah L. King, director of the Springfield Business Incubator, noted that of the 19 companies that are in or have graduated from the business incubator, only one has gone out of business, for a 94 percent success rate.

According to the SBA, only 40 percent of business startups are still in business after six years, so "it's clear that, with the support systems, they really do much better," King said.

She credited not just the facilities, but the 30-member advisory board made up of experienced business people. Each company in the incubator is assigned several advisory board members who meet at least quarterly to help out.

Networking in the building is "tremendous," King said.

"A lot of business owners start out in their homes and feel very isolated ... so being able to go down the hall and bounce an idea off somebody is invaluable."

The Enterprise Center - now named after Andrew M. Scibelli, the recently retired STCC president who had the vision and force of personality to get the technology park and enterprise center done - has grown from its original business incubation vision.

Business incubation "is still our primary focus: To create business to create wealth in the community," Goodrow said.

But the group of people running the Enterprise Center took their mission to heart, and took "some calculated risks with an entrepreneurial spirit," Goodrow said.

Now the Enterprise Center includes several other components: The Entrepreneurial Institute, the Center for Business and Technology, the Deliso Videoconferencing Center and the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship.

The Entrepreneurial Institute's mission is to teach kids and college-age students about entrepreneurship, with programs like "entrepreneur for a day" for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, and other programs for students in higher grades.

Teaching entrepreneurial concepts to kids from kindergarten through 12th grade "creates a pipeline of potential tenants for the business incubator," Goodrow said.

The Entrepreneurial Institute also oversees the Student Business Incubator, which is fully occupied with nine tenants paying $50 a month for small cubicles and access to phones and other office equipment.

The Center for Business and Technology is focused on helping to develop a work force with the skills and training needed by local industries.

It offers everything from non-credit classes in dance and woodworking to certification in all manner of information technology specialties.

Goodrow noted that while STCC has enrolled 6,000 students this year, the center for business and technology has 4,200 registrations.

Some of those courses are "just-in-time learning" classes set up for employers who need to get their workers up to speed with a particular skill.

"We do a huge service to the community, especially business and industry," he said, including preparing workers for certification tests.

The Center for Business and Technology also has a special high-stakes testing center where it administers certification exams for various entities, including Microsoft.

The Deliso Videoconferencing Center can be rented by area businesses, not just Enterprise Center tenants, needing to have a long-distance but face-to-face meeting or distance learning.

And STCC has taken its experience in fostering entrepreneurship to the next level by creating the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship.

Its most recent conference, in Kansas City, drew about 175 participants from 100 community colleges around the country who "wanted to see this type of model and bring it back to their campuses," Goodrow said, "to get involved in economic development."

The Scibelli Enterprise Center is run on grants and a little income. A little money - under $200,000 - is derived from rents from the tenants.

The state gives $535,000 a year to the STCC Assistance Corp. to run the entire Technology Park - covering things like electricity and maintenance - and that helps cover some of the Enterprise Center's costs.

And STCC provides in-kind contributions, including staffing.

The amount of rentable space isn't enough to support all the costs, Goodrow said, "but we knew that going in.

"We see this as part of our mission to support and educate the community through entrepreneurship education.

"It all comes down, after 5 years, to the vision of the STCC board of trustees and Andy Scibelli (former president), the STCC Assistance Corp. - these people saw the potential and airmed the rocket," Goodrow said. "So it's come a long way, it's really excellent times."