The South Sound Regional Business Incubator (SSRBI) is shifting directions in its efforts to spur business and job growth in the Federal Way region.
The new focus will be technology, said Patrick Doherty, the city’s director of economic development.
“Jobs for South Sound (a parent organization for the incubator) is interested in focusing in the technology sector to create a cluster here in Federal Way of start-up and small existing businesses already here that are poised for growth, and providing the quality family wage and higher wage jobs that the technology sector provides,” Doherty told the city council at its May 15 meeting.
The refocusing includes targeting business that fall under a few key metrics. The incubator hopes to assist companies that have filed or will file for patent protection; have a short lead time to market; focus on smartphone devices and similar handheld devices. The incubator will also assist companies that focus on electrical devices; software tools; green tech products; or tools or devices that solve a problem, reduce costs or increase productivity.
Doherty listed the primary functions and/or activities of the incubator, saying those functions include research, hosting local conferences, developing outreach to local institutes of higher education, and continuing or furthering programs to assist veterans in getting work, among other things.
The council had approved a scaling back in funding from $100,000 annually to $30,000 annually for the incubator in January, Doherty said. He felt it was appropriate to come back to council for a reauthorization, considering the shift in focus.
As it stands now, the incubator is set to report to the city council on a quarterly basis, along with a once-a-year report, Doherty said. Federal Way Chamber of Commerce CEO Patricia Mullen, who was on hand to answer questions from the council, said that there has been some growth in the area since the incubator’s inception in 2009.
“We are receiving more requests,” Mullen said. “In terms of the old business model, there were six to 10 graduated businesses, and a reported 151 jobs created since inception. Our goal (now) is to interview 100 companies over 12 months.”
Councilman Bob Celski was interested in making sure the incubator will still work with businesses not exclusively devoted to technology. Mullen answered in the affirmative. For his second question, Celski asked if there is a financial plan or model available for the council to review to go along with the new shift in focus for the incubator.
“I would like…something to look at going forward,” Celski said.
“The first year in this new model, we’ll be strongly developing relationships that will lead the type of client that would come in with the patents, etc.,” said Mullen, who took over the leadership role at the Chamber in January. “It would be rebranding, working in educational institutions.”
Councilman Roger Freeman was positive about this new direction for the incubator.
“I think your new plan and intent are right on point. I think you’re sending the right message,” he said.
Mullen said the new direction for the incubator has reinvigorated its participants to spur business and economic growth in the region.
“There’s a lot of excitement around this,” she said. “I have to tell you, the potential for new technology to come into Puget Sound…We’re hoping Federal Way and the incubator will be part of the niche and provide a really good solid base here in Federal Way.”
When first launched, officials expected the incubator to last 10 years and help create 200 jobs a year in the Federal Way area.
The business incubator program is designed to assist in the development of small businesses in the city. Resources and services, such as financial management tools, marketing advice, access to capital, business training programs, mentoring and more are offered to start-up and young companies through the incubator.