Yesterday I joined some of our city’s leaders on a tour of the Ennovation Center that is located in Independence, Missouri and serves as a business and food processing incubator for our region. There they’ve taken an old hospital and converted it into space that is leased out to business entrepreneurs, providing all the tools they need in order to succeed! Our city is looking at the concept in order to reimagine some of our older properties that have, over time, become blighted and unusable.
Xander Winkel, “Entrepreneurship Enabler”, as he calls himself, gave us a full tour of the Ennovation Center’s facility. Right away you could sense his energy and passion for the work that he does there. He explained to us that the center is run as a non-profit and has a 501(c)(3) status. It serves companies in the early stages of their business plans so that they don’t have to initially take on a lot of debt. This allows the business owner to try out their plan and see how it goes first. He explained that a majority do not go on, but now they’ve learned that it’s not for them without the debt that would otherwise be involved without the center.
Multiple kitchen spaces are located throughout the center and are leased hourly by those involved in the program. The incubator is for business use only, and not open to the community. Those involved have to be able to show an economic return in the form of jobs or development in order to continue. Xander explained that along with the program is direct access to business consultants who work with each of the members of the program on their business plan and development as they grow.
This is a gluten free room that is separate from the other areas of the incubator. Mostly baking is done in this area. Syrup production for soda that has to be separated from the other areas for food production laws and this space allows for that.
Cooler spaces with cages are available for lease as well. Xander assured us that most of those in the center play nice with their manners taught to them in kindergarten, and they share and don’t take others things. If they have that kind of behavior, they would be removed from the program, so they don’t see a lot of problems with the shared space experience.
The space is open 24/7 so that it works for the schedule of the entrepreneurs. Some work a regular job all day and then use their evenings and nights to come in and work on their business plan.
Training is offered on particular pieces of equipment throughout the facility. Most have cooking experience, not business experience. That’s why they have tools in place to work with them on turning their talent into something profitable.
Taking us then upstairs in the center, we were introduced to the business side of the incubator. Xander explained that in the business side, many service providers, non-profits, and technicians are the ones using the space mainly. Those that have been maybe working from home or a coffee shop and is looking for a more professional place to meet clients or have a space for production is a good fit for this program.
Entrepreneurs have access to a commercial copier and are charged separately. Phone and internet, as well as access to the business consultants are included with the lease.
Xander explained that they have to demonstrate that they’re starting a business and are committed to that. And they have to be somewhat coachable, as well as fit well with the other companies that are there. He said very few have had to be let go. Mainly they won’t be able to make a payment or know it won’t work.
I loved looking in to this workspace to see a playpen and toddler set up with their mom. This is exactly the flexibility that many women would need in order to see their business dream come true. Allowing an open space for people to work and have their needs met, while not taking a risk that might set them back decades if they were to fail or choose not to continue, is an investment into the future of our people. I’m grateful to live in a community that is open to thinking about ways that this could work for us. I’m honored to be included.