Innovation PortAL – expected to build on the region’s manufacturing base, focusing on collaboration between local industry, innovative manufacturers, and regional entrepreneurs – was conceived, designed and developed by the leadership of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, the city and county of Mobile, the University of South Alabama and a group of young leaders representing the FUSE Project.
The following excerpts from interviews and the incubator’s preliminary business plan outline the project’s background, timing, funding sources and other key points of interest.
What will it do?
By focusing on the strengths and resources of the community, Innovation PortAL will provide access to intense mentoring services, investment capital and networks and a highly educated and skilled workforce – all of which will help facilitate new business formation, job growth and the long-term economic success of the region.
Where will it be located?
St. Louis Street in downtown Mobile, in the heart of the former Automobile Alley, which is undergoing a renaissance to transform the artery into a high-tech corridor. The exact location will not be made public until the property is under contract.
How big will it be?
The structure in question, an early 1900s warehouse, takes up an entire city block. Initial plans call for the renovation of about 20,000 to 30,000 square feet but once completed, long-range plans call for 40,000 square feet of available space.
Who are the target tenants?
Although the space is a “mixed-use” incubator where all comers – within reason and specifications – are welcome, the facility will purposefully target entrepreneurs focused on innovation in the areas of advanced manufacturing, technology solutions, aviation and shipbuilding and biomedical development.
In May 2014, eight counties in Southwest Alabama, anchored by Mobile, were designated by the U.S. Department of Commerce as one of the first 12 “Manufacturing Communities” in the nation. Because southwest Alabama is recognized as a leading manufacturing region in shipbuilding, aviation, chemical industry and steel, a major focus of the Innovation PortAL will be to support innovation in the manufacturing industries in this region.
What role will local industry play in its development?
Led in part by the Airbus Group Innovation Team, one focus of the facility will be creating innovation teams financially supported and mentored by regional industries with the purpose of engineering solutions to problems identified by those industries. Support will be provided to these teams so that successful innovations can evolve into successful companies.
What other facilities across the country served as inspiration for this project?
Peer incubators interviewed, visited and observed as benchmarks include: INCubator in Chattanooga, Tenn.; Domi Station in Tallahassee, Fla; Montgomery Chamber Small Business Development Center; Nashville Business Incubation Center; LaunchPad in New Orleans; and ThinkTiv in Austin, Texas.
How will it be funded?
The nonprofit Innovation PortAL will operate as a 501(c)(3) designated entity. Until 501(c)(3) status is approved and obtained, the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation will act as the fiscal representative for the facility. Operational expenses will be covered from tenant rent, anchor tenants and grants.
The chamber foundation will purchase the building, and another foundation has committed to funding some renovations.
Other potential sources of funding include foundation grants, private donations, in-kind donations, government funding including tax increment financing and federal and state government grants. Naming rights for common areas, meeting and conference rooms will also be available.
What is Innovation PortAL’s anticipated economic impact?
By the close of its fifth year in operation, the facility is projected to have contributed to the creation of 500 local jobs; served at least 350 entrepreneurs through its various programs; and contributed $5 million in local economic impact via salaries, investment and capital. If these benchmarks are met, a memorandum of understanding between Innovation PortAL and the
J.L. Bedsole Foundation indicates the foundation will offer $200,000 annual grants for five years until the property has been 100 percent transferred.
February 26, 2016
By Kelli M. Dugan