Business incubators and co-working spaces are popping up all over the country, and in Tallahassee, Domi Station just celebrated its two year anniversary. But how are these efforts to grow local businesses impacting Tallahassee’s economy?
At Domi Station, local entrepreneurs come together at a shared office on Railroad Avenue to work and collaborate on their business ventures. Leon County paid to renovate Domi’s former warehouse space, but day to day Domi operations are funded by a combination of private sponsors and member fees. Jide Opeola is a member of Domi and the Founder and CEO of Bevi Mobile, a company that builds mobile apps for iOS and Android.
“I’m an electrical engineer, so my background is more tech-focused, and I also design as well," Opeola says. "But with starting my own business, I realized there’s a marketing aspect, there is coming up with a process, there is branding, and also you have to develop different business strategies.”
Entrepreneurs at Domi agree that co-working connects people of different skill sets in a way that’s mutually beneficial, like linking tech experts with communication experts. But how does that success impact Tallahassee?
Sabrina Torres, Domi’s Community Manager says, “it provides a stronger private sector that we can be proud of. I think Tallahassee has had for a long time two very big stamps on top of it: government town and college town. And we have a lot of innovation and talent in this town.”
Torres says people leave Tallahassee because they haven’t found their place. But Executive Director Lucas Lindsey believes by supporting entrepreneurs as they develop their ideas, Tallahassee will retain more talent and grow the local economy.
“That means job growth, ideally wage increases, more high-wage jobs for this community. It means more large-scale companies headquartered in Tallahassee, offering long-term career paths for people, so people coming out of the university know that ‘yeah, I can get my first job here, but I can also get my second, third step up along the ladder so I don’t have to leave necessarily if I don’t want to',” says Lindsey.
The International Business Innovation Association estimates there are 7,000 business incubators worldwide, but some business experts say that’s a bubble waiting to burst. Patrick Clark, a reporter at Bloomberg Businessweek, calls incubators the “entrepreneurial equivalent of a chaperoned semester in Europe,” and Forbes contributor Cliff Oxford says the trouble with the so-called start up city is in filling a room with people who still haven’t proven their success. But Christina Paredes, Deputy Director of the Tallahassee Office of Economic Vitality, thinks the mutual drive for proving success is exactly what makes co-working and incubation sustainable.
“They support small businesses, create that network of collaboration, and allow for sharing of professional expertise," she says.
Wendy Plant, with the Florida State University Department of Entrepreneurship agrees. She thinks incubators aren’t a fad; she even expects to see more of them.
“Some cities have kitchen incubators that are specifically for food type startups or there are other incubators that have a lot of wet lab space, so there’s shared lab equipment," says Plant, "so really, maybe just more incubators that are specifically geared towards different industries.”
A study from Syracuse University found incubated companies failed at a higher rate than those not incubated. But the author says that doesn’t necessarily mean that the incubator caused their failure, because some of those companies could’ve been headed for failure – incubator or not. But success is measured differently at every startup hub, and Domi director Lindsey is confident Tallahassee’s incubator is headed in the right direction. Domi is boasting $5.5 million in revenue to member businesses over the past two years and retention of Tallahassee talent.