Chuck Staley pointed to a drywall shell Thursday on the Flagship Enterprise Center’s second floor as he led dignitaries and Anderson University students through the future business incubator. “When you graduate from AU with that (business) degree and you have that great idea, this is the cheapest place to start it,” said Staley, Flagship Enterprise Center CEO and AU’s special assistant to the president for engagement. A 145-square-foot room is the smallest space the 40,000-square-foot incubator will offer entrepreneurs when it opens in April. A joint project with AU and the city of Anderson, the incubator will offer start-up businesses office space, conference centers and light manufacturing areas so entrepreneurs can network with business and university leaders. Planners hope the incubator will help retain college graduates and develop Anderson’s economic base beyond manufacturing.
He caught the attention of Brittany Garner, 21, and Justin Helman, 22, both AU seniors in marketing. Garner would like to work in pharmaceutical sales, and Helman is interested in real estate. Both are unsure they want to stay in Anderson after graduation.
“There’s plenty of people I know who graduated and had to get a blue-collar job to get by,” Helman said. “This place looks like a great gateway.”
Helman said he’s tossing around start-up ideas. “I’m not one for authority,” he said. “I don’t like it, so the best way to get around that’s to be your own boss.”
Garner said she liked the community space, such as a commons area with loveseats and coffee tables planned for the second floor, where entrepreneurs can mingle. She said that sort of guidance would make her more comfortable if she were an entrepreneur.
Staley said the incubator was designed with younger, independent workers in mind. “They think differently than the old picture of clocking in at 8:30 and out at 5,” he said. “They don’t work that way.”
The incubator also will include a fitness center, showers and 24-hour access, he said. The entrance will open to a large, glass-rail staircase. Farther back, a seminar room will seat up to 125 people, and visitor offices will house university personnel and students partnering with start-ups.
Seven businesses housed in a former Remy building will move to the business park off Martin Luther King Boulevard near Interstate 69. Staley hopes to have the building half full the first year and 80 percent full the second year.
U.S. Rep. Mike Pence stood in the middle of a light manufacturing area where start-ups can create prototypes on the first floor. Pence worked to secure a $250,000 grant through the Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education and a $300,000 Economic Initiative Grant for the incubator. Plastic that covered large openings flapped in the wind as he talked to about 20 AU students gathered around him, their business attire covered with winter coats, mittens and scarves.
“I would just like to say welcome to the new Anderson economy,” he said. “It’s really about you all that these bricks and mortar are going up ... The Flagship is all about creating an atmosphere where good jobs can percolate.”
— JILLIAN DUCHNOWSKI is a reporter for teh Anderson Herald Bulletin.