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Business Accelerator Sees Potential in Selma

A two-story, brick building on the corner of Alabama Avenue and Church Street will soon be home to a half dozen businesses as a part of the Arsenal Place Accelerator.

The accelerator’s staff is putting the finishing touches on the building and its official launch will be 5:15 p.m. on March 18 at 900 Alabama Avenue.

Many cities have business incubators — supporting entrepreneurs’ ideas — but the Arsenal Place Accelerator is using a slightly different method to grow local companies. Arsenal’s website says it plans to take a hands-on approach to growing local, small business. The accelerator has already secured a few tenants, including Selma Good owner Robert Armstrong.

Arsenal’s chairman of the board Dane Shaw said the accelerator would be an important addition Selma’s economy.

“In Selma and anywhere in the Black Belt, small business is an engine for all other different kinds of industries,” Shaw said. “If we can help accelerate the growth of businesses it creates jobs and strengthens other core businesses in our region.”

He said tenants would pay a flat, all-inclusive fee to take part in the accelerator. The fee includes office space, Internet access, utilities and advice from well-established businessmen. Arsenal will function as a non-profit, using any fees from tenant businesses to pay for rent, expenses or events. Shaw said the accelerator will not receive any equity in the tenant companies.

One portion of the building will be dedicated to white-collar businesses, such as Armstrong’s cookie company. While another potion of the building — called the Artisans Center — will focus on handcrafted products.

As a young entrepreneur, Armstrong said advice from other business owners helped him work through issues as he started Selma Good and would be beneficial as he continues efforts to expand.

“I would be nowhere without the contacts and advice that I have received,” he said. “There are so many things you don’t know when you start a business. Being an entrepreneur is kind of like an emotional roller coaster at times.”

Becoming a member of the accelerator marks an important milestone for Armstrong. While walking through the building Thursday, Armstrong smiled as his stood in his first office.

“I’m excited about it; having a place to work definitely helps,” he said. “It’s a space to call my own.”

Though the accelerator will fulfill many tangible business needs, Armstrong said advice and being surrounded by other entrepreneurs is also an important benefit.

“I think that creativity breeds creativity,” he said. “When you are surrounded by other people who are thinking of innovative ways to make their products better, your business can also benefit.”

Shaw said the accelerator is still looking for two, possibly three, more companies to fill Arsenal’s available office space. Interested entrepreneurs can visit to submit their applications.

Businesses who aren’t able to secure a space in the accelerator’s physical building can still participate in business roundtables and speeches, Shaw said.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

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