WKU expands top-notch space for growing tech companies
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - If you have ever wanted to start your own business or grow an existing one, the resources to do so are around the corner in the Small Business Accelerator section of WKU’s Center for Research and Development.
“Our real bottom-line goal is to create better opportunities and jobs right here in Bowling Green,” Buddy Steen said. Steen serves as the Executive in Residence at the WKU Center for Research and Development and is also the programs director at the Central Region Innovation and Commercialization Center (CRICC) within the Small Business Accelerator.
“These programs are designed to help technology-based companies start, grow, and then we try to recruit and retain those companies here,” Steen explained. After working with the Center for Research and Development in the past, Steen has returned to this position of leadership ten years later, hoping to apply some of the knowledge he learned by working in the private sector of entrepreneurship to help other companies grow.
“I decided to spend the next five or six years of my career doing what I really have fun doing, and that’s helping other people,” Steen said. “Being able to work with these companies one on one, that’s that’s the reason why being the programs director was important to me.”
WKU’s Small Business Accelerator is an ever-expanding resource for the community. As small businesses continue to occupy space in the building, there has often been a need to increase in size. In April, the program will expand even more creating a 30,000 square foot space for remote working called the ‘WKU Smart Space.’
“A lot of the companies out there have recognized that they can have their employees work more remotely,” Jeff Hook, the director for the Center for Research and Development, said. “We decided that our next expansion would include co-working facilities, people that may just want to drop in for an hour and work, but they need that infrastructure.”
The WKU Smart Space will be composed of cubicles designed around social distancing, providing adequate meeting space, a good internet connection, and a comfortable place to work.
The Director of the Small Business Accelerator mentioned they hope to eventually include a dining area and childcare facility.
“Some of the goals for this facility are clearly aligned with our overarching goals, jobs, and opportunities,” Hook said. “We want to retain talent, we want to recruit talent. So we’re actually going to go after remote workers that have relocated to other areas, and try to give them a value proposition that will get them back to Bowling Green.”
WKU’s Center for Research and Development, once a local mall, is known for the wide-open space it provides for the public and WKU students to grow their small businesses. 13 News was able to talk to the Chief Operations Officer of Eezy on how the company has grown through using resources the Small Business Accelerator has provided.
Vecteezy.com is a website that connects designers and other artists with the people who need their products, such as vector images, videos, themes, etc. When relocating to the Center for Research and Development, they first rented a 1,000 square foot space, but as they grew, now employing more than 60 people, the company was able to easily expand in the building.
“One of the great things about the accelerator is that the ability to expand and move. So, we’ve been here five years, but about every 12 to 18 months, we moved. We went from 300 square feet to 1000 square feet,” Richard Fontenot, the C.O.O. of Eezy said.
Now, the company occupies a 3,000 square foot spot. “We know we would have not been able to do that if we would have bought a place or rented, you know, a single individual spot, have the expansion availabilities,” he said.
Besides office space, the Small Business Accelerator provides other resources for entrepreneurs, ultimately carrying out their goal of creating and retaining jobs in Bowling Green through the growth of locally-owned technology companies.
These resources could vary from anything between guest speakers such as lawyers or marketing experts to arranging meet-ups with local investors.
“This is purely an economic development function of the university,” Hook said. “Business accelerators are about growing those companies and keeping them in Bowling Green, creating jobs and opportunities for people like WKU students because when they graduate, we want them to have an opportunity here in Bowling Green.”
WKU who are interested in starting a business also heavily benefit from WKU’s Small Business Accelerator as they have access to all of the resources provided as well. To learn even more about the programs you can click here.
Currently, more than 30 small businesses are operating out of the Small Business Accelerator sector of WKU’s Center for Research and Development, a number that continues to grow.
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