Imagine what it would be like if Statesboro had been the home of Google, Facebook or Microsoft – software giants that have had and continue to have multibillion dollar economic impacts on the communities in which they are based.
For many years this has been the purpose of industrial development; to do everything possible to attract such business goliaths, but it is becoming increasingly more difficult to do so in a recessive economy in which more and more communities are soliciting industry as a way to create jobs for its residents.
There is another way to grow the job base in Bulloch County according to Dr. Luke Pittaway, the director for the Center for Entrepreneurial Learning and Leadership in the College of Business Administration at Georgia Southern University.
“The alternative is to develop some businesses ourselves that are underpinned by new technologies, and that have the potential to grow,” Pittaway said. “We may need quite a few to get one big success story but it will only take one significant success, or a host of little successes, to have a major impact on our local economy.”
This is the logic that drives Georgia Southern University’s Entrepreneur Zone (or E-Zone) in the City Campus on East Main Street in downtown Statesboro.
The City Campus is a collaborative effort between the city of Statesboro, the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority (DSDA) and Georgia Southern University. It recently won the “Best Commercial Redevelopment Activity” for the DSDA.
“We are supporting economic development — that’s the short answer,” said Ron Shiffler, dean of Georgia Southern’s College of Business Administration. “This is where it all begins. This is where the first job is created, and so our goal is to try to develop some new businesses that can stand on their own and hopefully grow into those big game changers that will stay in Bulloch County.”
For $100, an entrepreneur can become a member of the E-Zone for 90 days, and then it is $65 per month after that. For local businesses that want to use the conference room or classroom in the facility, it is $25 per hour.
The E-Zone seeks to encourage the development of “organized serendipity”, according to Pittaway, which means if you put a bunch of entrepreneurial people together something interesting and unexpected happens.
“In fulfilling this obligation, the E-Zone is helping local and student entrepreneurs by providing suitable space from which they can run their businesses,” he said. “In addition, we provide consultative services in the form of mentoring, business plan development, and market research.”
Rob Wilkerson, the owner of Reboot - a PC optimization business, was the first entrepreneur to sign up with the E-Zone.
“You get some great space at a reasonable price, but also I have been paired with entrepreneurial mentors, and have a student team helping me with a business plan,” he said. “It provides me with a quiet place to think, plan, and strategize.”
Jamie Gilleland owner of Misyte.com, a web design, development, SEO and hosting company, is also a client of the E-Zone. She recently completed the redesign of Bulloch County’s website, and used the facilities to augment the website’s launch.
“I was able to conduct training for the new website in the E-Zone classroom,” she said. “It was the perfect for that. Overall, I use the E-Zone for meetings, training courses, as well as to work from. In addition, I believe that networking is very important, and this type of facility really helps with that aspect of growing your business.”
The E-Zone is also helping student entrepreneurs such as Malcolm and Marcus Howard get their business started. The Howards are developing an internship and consulting business — Howard Consultancy & Investments — matching student labor with small businesses, as well as an internet analytics business.
“This is a perfect facility for us,” said Malcolm Howard. “We use the conference room regularly, and it enables us to have a professional setting for our business which is critical as we get started.”
In addition to providing space for entrepreneurs, the E-Zone is also seeking to help established businesses by providing training facilities in its 30-seat classroom, and offering a conference room with sophisticated video and tele-conferencing technologies at a nominal price. The E-Zone also hosts forums for small businesses, each focusing on specific business issues, such as Sales Tips for Small Businesses, and How to Avoid Running Out of Cash.
It is also the venue for many of Georgia Southern University’s entrepreneurship courses. “Dr. Pittaway talks about organized serendipity in his class, but you really see it in the E-Zone,” said MBA student John Keith. “We often arrive on a Thursday afternoon for our weekly class at the E-Zone and end up meeting many of the small business owners who are here for the E-Zone Forum.”
To learn more about the E-Zone, contact: Jaye Parker at firstname.lastname@example.org, (912) 478-8701.