Ohio University has a unique opportunity and special obligation to enhance cultural, educational, and economic opportunities in the region.
Mike Kornmiller has served as a successful Web technology consultant for companies across the country. So why did he choose Athens, Ohio, as the home for his new business?
"You can run a communication technology business from virtually anywhere, and I wanted to stay in the area near my family," Kornmiller says. "So with some help from Ohio University, we created a company here."
Kornmiller and business partners Richard Innis and Tom Hanlon moved into Ohio University's Innovation Center two years ago and launched the Web development firm Functional Media (www.functionalmedia.com). The Innovation Center, a small business incubator that nurtures start-up companies in technology-based industries, helped Kornmiller leap into the uncertain world of private business.
"I couldn't take out a $100,000 business loan, mortgage my home and just take that jump," Kornmiller says. "The Innovation Center lowered our risks by giving us access to office space and other business resources at a reasonable price."
Innovation Center member companies, most of which are started by local or University entrepreneurs, receive access to shared research and office equipment, meeting rooms, business consultants and flexible lease space to help them keep start-up costs low. Other benefits include finance and marketing assistance as well as connections with experts on campus.
Thirteen businesses currently reside in the Innovation Center's home in The Ridges complex. The Center is on the verge of expansion with the construction of a 36,000 square-foot facility on West State Street in Athens. The $5.7 million building, expected to open spring 2003, will more than triple the Center's current space and include new facilities for biotechnology, information technology and light manufacturing companies.
"This will give us the opportunity to bring prosperity to our region by contributing to the development and growth of technology-related businesses," says Center Director Linda Clark. "Statistically, these types of jobs are better-paying, and we are strongly committed to diversifying and strengthening the local economy through new job creation."
The Innovation Center, one of the oldest university-based incubators in the nation, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Since its founding, it has housed 40 companies and fostered the creation of more than 650 jobs in southeastern Ohio. Seven of those companies have evolved into successful biotechnology firms based on Ohio University faculty concepts, illustrating the Center's commitment to promoting the transfer of University-invented technology for commercial use.
Once companies become self-sufficient-usually within three or four years-they transfer their offices into the community. According to the National Business Incubation Association (whose offices are housed on the Ohio University campus), 87 percent of incubator graduates stay in business and 84 percent remain in the local area.
Kornmiller and his partners anticipate the day when they can strike out on their own. "This opportunity has allowed us to comfortably start our own business and stay in an area that we love," he says. "It's worked well for us."
[Editor's note: The Innovation Center celebrated its grand opening Sept. 16, 2003.]
Ohio University has a multifaceted mission that combines academics, social and community elements. Much like the enduring bricks that form Ohio University's structural foundation, these elements form the basis for our future as a comprehensive, national university. This is the last in a five-part series revealing how our adherence to Ohio University's mission is influencing the lives of students, faculty and community members inside and outside Ohio University's enduring brick walls.