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How Business Incubator is changing under Brenau leadership
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Carroll Turner, right, executive director of the Business Incubator, drops by the Pro Genex area of the incubator Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, to meet with Pro Genex president Brett Grauss. - photo by Scott Rogers

The lobby TV is turned to a business news channel, new signs have been installed and even trees have been trimmed back so the building can be seen by passersby.

All are physical changes to the Business Incubator at Brenau University at 999 Chestnut St., Gainesville.

But there’s also a new focus inside as Brenau takes over the operation from Lanier Tech, which managed the incubator from January 2007 to June 30, 2018.

“What Brenau brings to the table is (the incubator’s) connection to a university, the ability to bring faculty expertise to help with businesses and bring a level of knowledge and expertise that the incubator really lacked,” said Robert C. Shippey Jr., associate vice president for development.

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Brenau University Associate Vice President Robert Shippey tours the Business Incubator at Brenau University Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. - photo by Scott Rogers

He said Carroll L. Turner, executive director of the incubator with Lanier Tech and now Brenau, “was the expert and still is, but we’re able to bring a great deal more insight and support.”

One thing that hasn’t changed in the July 1 handoff between the schools is the role and main goal of the Business Incubator. It works with startup companies and entrepreneurs to turn ideas into products, allowing them to get a foothold in their operations before launching to another location.

Over the years, the incubator has launched 40 businesses, with nearly a quarter of them staying in the area, Turner said.

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Carroll Turner, executive director of the Business Incubator, right, and Robert Shippey, associate vice president for development at Brenau University, on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, display a patient stabilizer invented by a company from the incubator. - photo by Scott Rogers

Under Brenau, the incubator especially will be key in providing students with real-life experiences, Shippey said.

As a teaching tool, it will allow “students to come in and learn what it’s like to start a business, to maintain a business, to build an employee base and get to the point where you have a return on investment.”

The whole intent, Shippey said, is “to allow our students to benefit from (Turner’s) expertise — along with these businesses — and then get these businesses to stay here in the community and contribute both to the skilled workforce and the tax base.”

“We see the incubator primarily as a facilitator for economic growth in Gainesville and Hall County,” Shippey said.

The incubator is part of Featherbone Communiversity, a sprawling complex off Chestnut Street and near Athens Highway/U.S. 129 that also houses University of Georgia and Georgia Tech offices and Interactive Neighborhood for Kids, a hands-on activity center for families.

The operation has had one bump in operating out of the aging Communiversity — parts of the former Warren Featherbone Co. baby clothes factory are 100 years old — since July 1.

A sprinkler incident flooded part of the building earlier this month, indefinitely closing INK.

A genetics company, Pro-GeneX, is building a lab at the incubator.

“The flooding … has set (that) back a little bit,” Shippey said.

The incubator houses 11 businesses but could house up to 30, Shippey said.

Lanier Tech President Ray Perren has said the transition to Brenau “will grant the center the opportunity to continue to expand its reach beyond the foundation we’ve laid during its time at Lanier Tech.”

“We are eager to see the center solicit new clients who are ready to make a lasting impact on our community. It has been an incredible project.”

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Brenau University now runs the Business Incubator that was operated by Lanier Technical College from January 2007 to June 30, 2018. - photo by Scott Rogers

Brenau President Ed Schrader said Brenau appreciated the “robust foundation” established by Lanier Tech.

“Our vision ... is to create maximum opportunity for business and education partnerships addressing complex ideas and information and discovering innovative applications of technology, best practices and creative trends in business formation, wealth building and job creation,” Schrader said.

Moving forward, the center may offer one-on-one coaching, expert support, student internships, projects, special events and “networking that teaches innovation and enables real-world results and jobs,” according to a joint statement from Brenau and Lanier Tech.

Shippey said that under Brenau, the incubator is continuing to seek companies that support health care, as well as ones focusing on new product developments and “high-tech robotic and artificial intelligence … that will contribute both to the financial and intellectual economy of our region.”

“We are also looking to assist not-for-profit businesses engaged in making a positive social difference,” Shippey said.

The incubator “is not here to give somebody an arm up on the competition,” he added. “We’re trying to create companies that can solve problems and provide solutions. We’re not trying to put somebody (outside the incubator) out of business.”

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