Business
5:45 pm
Thu September 13, 2012

New Downtown Incubator attracts entrepreneurs and English teachers

If you’ve got a sharp eye you might have noticed a new building in downtown Columbia.  Last week the City of Columbia and local entrepreneurial group The League of Innovators officially opened the Brent and Erica Beshore Downtown Incubator. 

The shared workspace on the ground floor of the fifth street parking garage is a central location for entrepreneurs and small businesses to meet, work and collaborate.

The building itself, just little ways down the street from REDI isn’t much on paper.  It’s really just a collection of featureless desks, tables, chairs.  It's a shared workspace for startup businesses.  

“Rather than a startup firm buying space or renting space they basically rent time.  With a lot of assets.” said City Manager Mike Matthes at the incubator’s official opening last week.  

Those assets include meeting rooms and WiFi but they also include mentors from REDI and the League of Innovators.  As well as access to like-minded entrepreneurs.

“This is really the front door for the entrepreneurial community," said Brent Beshore.  "Anyone who wants to start a business, this is the place to get connected.” 

Brent Beshore is the CEO of AdVentures and a serial entrepreneur.  He also sits on the board of REDI and it's his name that's on the wall of the new incubator.

“You need a place to work, right?  But most people work out of their homes." said Beshore.  "What you really need is connectivity.  Connectivity to capital at the right time.  Connectivity to mentors, connectivity to just knowledge.  To get advice from mentors at the right time.”

Sitting on a curb outside the reception was Murtaza Halai. He’s exactly the kind of guy Beshore and the City want at the incubator.  He spent 9 years with Amazon.com in Seattle and now he plans to start an e-commerce business in Columbia.  He says a community of entrepreneurs and mentors could help get his business off the ground.

“It’s like oxygen in the room." said Halai.  "Especially with tech. When you’re really starting up with ideas, you can say is this a good idea?  Is this a bad idea?  When you’re really starting up, it increases the rate at which you’re innovating.  Increases the speed.  Having others to bounce your ideas off.”

It’s this "oxygen in the room" that made Matthew Murrie start the process of applying to the Incubator for himself and his students.

Transforming the Liberal Arts

In his small office at Westminster College, Murrie pulled down his a well worn copy of The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss.  It’s something of a bible for the entrepreneurial set and it’s advice that Murrie badly needs.

He’s a professor of English at Westminster, a small liberal arts college in Fulton.  Before coming here, he spent three years in Macedonia with the peace corps.  Aside from the language school he helped to build there, he doesn’t have much experience in the way of entrepreneurship.

“The biggest approach to take I found is not just gathering information but start taking action," said Murrie.  "Once you start taking action, a lot of learning will come along with that.”

Murrie is spearheading efforts at Westminster to make entrepreneurship a greater part of the liberal arts education.  In addition to his composition classes, he’s started teaching an introduction to entrepreneurialism course.

“We’re not going to just give you theoretical," said Murrie.  "We’re not going to keep doing what we’ve been doing but we're going to work on finding ways to transform this education into something that’s practical.” 

Murrie wants to regularly bring his classes to the Downtown Incubator, making the business world a major part of students’ time at Westminster.

It's not something that Westminster English department has jumped on board with, but some in the business related departments have welcomed Murrie with open arms.  

“The interesting thing about entrepreneurship is that sometimes that's enough enough: Knowing your product and having fire in your belly is great" said Selcen Phelps, a professor of Business Management Information Systems.  "But a lot of times it’s the little things that trip you up.  Not knowing about market research, not knowing how to talk to a banker.  It’s a great initiator but I see a good partnership there.” 

Murrie’s not entirely sure what will come of his time at the Downtown Incubator.  But if he knows one thing, when it comes between waiting-and-seeing or taking action, he’ll act.