Formed last fall amid plenty of fanfare, The Lakeshore Launch Pad has not received the kind of attention and support it needs, said Todd Battle, executive director of Muskegon Area First.
The economic development agency and the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce, which collaborated on running the business incubator center as a separate nonprofit organization, recently decided to fold the Launch Pad into Muskegon Area First. The center’s board of directors will now serve as an advisory committee.
Muskegon Area First this month also brought on board a full-time director of technology initiatives, Gary Nelund, to administer The Launch Pad, which previously was run by a part-time interim director with support from Muskegon Area First and chamber staff.
Changing the organizational structure and hiring a full-time administrator for the business incubator, a key element to the Muskegon Lakefront SmartZone high-tech business park envisioned for Muskegon’s waterfront, was essential for its progress, Battle said.
The previous organization structure left The Launch Pad without the dedicated staff it needed to continually focus on running a business incubation center and establishing support programs that start-up businesses need, Battle said.
“It needed somebody plugging away on it on a full-time basis. It’s only in its infancy,” Battle said. “The direction we’re going in now is the right direction. It’s like we’re starting the initiative over again.”
One of the primary early goals for Nelund, who started with The Launch Pad on June 3, is developing a marketing plan.
The Lakeshore Launch Pad was established to provide fledgling technology companies office space and support amenities — joint fax and copy machines, high-speed DSL Internet service and conference rooms — at an affordable price and in a location close to organizations that are behind Muskegon’s Lakeshore SmartZone initiative. Doing so allows entrepreneurs to keep their start-up costs low and better control their fixed costs so they can dedicate more time and resources to managing and building their business.
The center, offering five small office suites and housed in the basement of the Hume Office Building on Third Street, downstairs from the Muskegon Area Chamber of Commerce and Muskegon Area First, started with two businesses and later added a third. Of the original two tenants, Vesta Consultants has since moved to new quarters and Next IT will soon follow.
“We’ve certainly come a long way from our company’s first home 12 months ago,” said Eric Ringelberg, one of two partners in Next IT.
Next IT, an information technology solutions provider that has added four staff members since December and plans to hire three more by the end of July, purchased the Progressive Professional Center building on West Norton Avenue that houses it and Vesta Consultants, which offers computer training, e-business planning and application, and database support to small businesses.
At The Lakeshore Launch Pad, Nelund recently signed another small firm, First Power LLC, to move to join present tenants e-Tool Developers, a developer of electronic product presentations, and Relativity KM, a technical training and software developer that focuses on the education market.
One of the challenges The Launch Pad faced was the shear uniqueness of the venture. While they could learn from the models of similar facilities elsewhere, organizers of The Lakeshore Launch Pad needed to work through the process locally to come up with a formula that worked for Muskegon.
“There was no cookie-cutter approach to doing it,” Battle said.