Innovators will have a new place to test ideas and develop business plans when the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship’s (CIE) Entrepreneur Center opens in Strawberry Square, Harrisburg, Wednesday.
The center, originally created by Harrisburg University of Science and Technology (HU), offers 4,000 square feet of outward-facing open space for startup companies to grow ideas.
CIE Executive Director Jay Jayamohan said the center currently has 11 companies enrolled in the business incubator program. They have been working out of HU for about the past two years.
When the center opens, Jayamohan said there will be room for 30 entrepreneurs.
Currently, 80% of the innovators are Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and 50% are women, he said. That is by design.
Pennsylvania is behind other states offering business incubators, especially for the BIPOC community. Jayamohan said HU President Eric Darr had the idea to create such a space and convinced him to come to Harrisburg from Washington, D.C. to make it happen.
“Our goals were to strengthen partnerships with industry, government and investors; create space for innovation; and increase technology,” he said.
With those goals met, the Entrepeneur Center was born. The new space offers founders, the entrepreneurs who are invited into the incubator, residency to develop their business ideas for up to 18 months, financial assistance, coaching, and student interns.
“Economic development and support for businesses have always been part of HU’s mission,” said Darr. “The center is accessible and for anyone who has an idea. It can be anybody who just has a concept but doesn’t know where to start. We hope, by having founders come to the entrepreneurship center, it creates new companies and jobs throughout the Harrisburg region and beyond,”
Jayamohan and his network of entrepreneurs and innovators mentor the incubator’s founders in the center. They provide help forming corporations and connect them with funding resources.
In addition, Jayamohan said they help them find pro-bono attorneys for their intellectual property and help them flesh out ideas. They also provide up to four student workers, paid by HU and connect them with technology and software development partners when needed.
“The multi-faceted goal of CIE is not only flipping the script on what you must ‘look like’ to be an innovator, but to build a replicable model to create a positive economic change in small cities and towns,” Jayamohan said. “This will not happen without the support of the larger community and so we are excited for our new space and have entrepreneurs and innovators from the community continue to be an evangelist for the work we do.”
Jayamohan said they have had more than 100 requests to join the program over the past year and are currently looking for new partners to help fund it.
“We invest about $100,000 in each founder with free rent and workers,” he said. “We are looking to raise money from local foundations and corporate partners to grow.”
Interest has, in fact, grown as the community is seeing success from the program. Jayamohan said two companies, Noqi Logic and Arcana Recovery Inc., have graduated and there are a few others on their way.
HU has the resources to help between 15 and 20 new startups. Jayamohan said he is hopeful money can be raised to continue growing the program to full capacity now that the center is visible to the community.