BUSINESS INNOVATION GROUP ASSISTS ENTREPRENEURS

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Starting a business can be a daunting task. Entrepreneurs have to do business research, get a business license, find funding, test products, find office space, find distribution options and a whole lot more before they open their doors to the public.

In Statesboro, however, this difficult process now begins with a simple drive downtown to the offices of Georgia Southern’s Business Innovation Group, or BIG, for short. Area entrepreneurs can walk in with a business idea and have immediate access to business experts and agencies that can get them up and running quickly and efficiently.

BIG Director Dominique Halaby, DPA, calls it a “one-stop shop” for entrepreneurs, and a way for Georgia Southern to give back to the community it calls home.

“By creating this one-stop shop, we’ve been able to maximize the role the University plays in helping spur our economy,” he said. “We’ve now become that conduit for people to start businesses. I think that’s pretty important for us.”

Inside the offices of BIG are several local and federal agencies specifically tasked to get small businesses off the ground. These services include business research and economic development services, low-cost or free training and consulting services — as well as special training and business consulting for veterans through the Veterans Business Outreach Center

Most recently, BIG welcomed a branch of the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) into its office. SCORE is a nonprofit organization sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and provides business mentors, tools and workshops at no charge or at very low cost.

“Some would say we can only do this if we’re in a major urban area,” said Halaby. “Well, that’s a fallacy. Creative ideas come from all walks of life and from all locations across the country. They happen more in the urban areas because they have the facilities and the equipment to be able to encourage that. Now we have it here, too.”

BIG also worked with the City of Statesboro, the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority and the Economic Development Administration to renovate a 10,000-square-foot space downtown for a Fabrication Laboratory — or FabLab — and an Innovation Incubator.

The FabLab contains 3D printers, a CNC routing machine, a laser cutter, table saws and hand tools in a cutting-edge maker space that allows entrepreneurs to create new products prototypes for their businesses, or just learn about new manufacturing processes.

The Innovation Incubator holds office space for 20 new businesses, with access to meeting rooms, shared printers, shared audiovisual equipment, and a wireless network on the University’s fiber line. In addition, entrepreneurs will have access to ongoing advisement, coaching and leadership assessment, as well as business consulting and technical assistance. Seventeen local businesses have already applied for offices in the space, and Halaby said he is excited about the attention it will bring to the University and the community.

“I think we’re pioneering in a very integral space that connects the U.S. economy back to rural communities as opposed to just major urban areas,” he said. “I think that’s important. And I think that we’re starting to get recognized and get eyes placed on us to see how successful we can be in our efforts to do that.”

Halaby has worked in economic development for more than 10 years, and has owned several businesses, the latest of which just opened an office in Shanghai, China. His love of economic development work isn’t just rooted in his love of business, however. It’s rooted in the rewards.

“It is extremely gratifying and rewarding in the sense that you get to see the fruits of your labor,” he said. “And not a whole lot of jobs will afford you that opportunity.

“In economic development, you actually get to see the end of a process you started, whether that’s a firm recruitment — you get to see them break ground, you get to see the ribbon cutting, you get to see the lines at the job fairs — you get to see those things.”

He hopes to see even more of it here in Statesboro. — Doy Cave

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