Phil Castle, The Business Times
Just like the entrepreneurs starting ventures at the Business Incubator Center, Jon Maraschin constantly evaluates whether or not he’s meeting the needs of his customers.
As executive director of the center, Maraschin’s customers happen to be the business owners leasing space, taking classes, borrowing money from a revolving loan fund and using other resources offered there. As the center begins its 31st year of operation and Maraschin his sixth year as director, he says he’s excited about the role of those resources in creating new businesses and jobs and in turn promoting economic development in Grand Junction and Western Colorado.
“Our mission is more relevant than ever,” he says.
Along with meeting the demands of a growing clientele, Maraschin expects the expansion of facilities as well as other changes to improve services.
The Business Incubator Center serves as a sort of one-stop shop in offering a range of programs to entrepreneurs. The main campus of the center is located on a portion of a former Department of Energy compound on East Orchard Mesa in Grand Junction. The center also operates a satellite office in the Civic Center in Fruita.
The incubator program offers low-cost manufacturing and office space as well as the use of a commercial kitchen. Maraschin says more than 60 tenants participate in the program, and there’s a waiting list for manufacturing space.
Many of the manufacturing companies in the program sell products and services to customers outside the Grand Valley, in turn bringing dollars into the area, he says.
The Small Business Development Center that’s located on the Business Incubator Center campus offers free and low-cost classes and counseling. That includes twice-yearly business planning courses as well as a six-month acclerated business development program. Those classes are well-attended, Maraschin says.
The Business Incubator Center also administers a revolving loan fund that offers financing to small businesses that might not qualify for traditional loans and helps those businesses leverage additional financing.
The center has remained busy in all aspects of its operations, something Maraschin attributes to an entrepreneurial spirit in Western Colorado as well as a transition from regional economy once dependent on natural gas and oil development to one that reflects more diverse and innovative businesses. “I’m very optimistic about what we’re seeing.”
There’s also been growing interest from entrepreneurs in moving their operations from the Front Range to the Western Slope, he says.
Expansions are planned to Business Incubator Center facilities in Grand Junction and Fruita to accomodate increasing demand for services.
An expanded Makerspace will open in the manufacturing area of the center in Grand Junction and offer room for users to set up their own spaces to work on projects, Maraschin says.
The Makerspace offers access to equipment that can be used to build and test new products. The space also provides a collaborative environment in which entrepreneurs, engineers, designers and artists can develop ideas, he says.
A grant from the City of Grand Junction makes the expansion possible, he says.
Meanwhile, a separate grant will enable the Business Incubator Center to add a coworking space with around-the-clock access to its satellite office in Fruita, Maraschin says.
That new coworking space will accommodate not only Fruita residents, but also people traveling to the area who might need a place to work for a few hours, he says.
Back at the center in Grand Junction, the availability of access to high-speed Internet services is expected to attract more tenants to office space, Maraschin says. A new program will make that space available for $200 a month.
The program also could afford an opportunity for artists and other entrepreneurs in the creative industries to find a place in which to work that also accommodates online sales, he says.
Given the increasing interest in operating food trucks, changes in the kitchen incubator program could be coming to meet the needs of those entrepreneurs, Maraschin says.
At the same time, a group of people who work in the food industry and are interested in food have been meeting on a monthly basis and considering the possibility of opening a facility that would connect area farmers and ranchers with restaurants and consumers, he says.
New classes offered at the center are geared toward the changing needs of entrepreneurs, including classes offering information about selling products on Amazon.com and evaluating whether or not new products justify the investment in patent protection. “Whatever they need, we try to teach them.”
In the end, Maraschin says it’s a matter of constantly evaluating the services and programs offered at the Business Incubator Center — and whether or not he’s meeting the needs of his customers.
The Business Incubator Center operates facilities at 2591 Legacy Way in Grand Junction as well as 325 E. Aspen Ave. in Fruita. For more information, call 243-5242 or visit www.gjincubator.org.