IRONTON, Ohio — Ohio University Southern is hoping to aid the Lawrence County economy with a new initiative — a business incubator called Southern Launch on its Ironton campus.

"We want everyone to know the benefits of having a business incubator here in Ironton for this region," said Jennifer Simon, executive director of regional innovation at Ohio University Southern, during an open house Wednesday marking the start of the incubator. "The idea is to spur new businesses and the goal right now is talk with people interested in entrepreneurship."

A business incubator helps new and startup companies to develop by providing services such as management training or office space, according to Simon.

Mike Pierce, of Ironton, said he wanted as much information as he could get about starting businesses in Ironton.

"We need more business and this business incubator program may be the best way for someone to start one," he said.

Simon was the featured speaker at a "Incubation 101" workshop at the open house.

"Many small business owners that have launched successful ventures from incubators cite the presence of fellow entrepreneurs as a key element in their success," she said.

Simon cited national success stories, including cloud storage giant Dropbox, accommodations marketplace Airbnb, and social news aggregator Reddit as starting in some type of business incubator setting.

"We don't have any businesses yet, as this is just starting out, but we have had lots of interest for this in the community," she said.

Sarah Diamond Burroway, director of external relations and Workforce Success for the campus, will work directly with members of the incubator. She says the project was undertaken in response to a 2018 survey which indicated a community need for supportive services and a dedicated physical space in which area residents could develop new business concepts.

"The incubator can house up to six new businesses in a co-working space," she said. "The Southern Launch will also serve virtual members, or, those who are only seeking services without occupying a space at the incubator. All Southern Launch members will have access to business coaching, custom training, workshops, access to Southern's workforce partnerships and other services."

Diamond Burroway added that Southern Launch will operate as part of Workforce Success, an initiative of the campus which provides workforce training to the community.

Nicole Pennington, interim executive dean for OHIO Higher Education and dean of Southern, said the project will work with entrepreneurs by providing responsive services.

"The Southern Launch will have the strength of the LIGHTS Regional Innovation network as a resource for local business start-ups," Pennington said.

LIGHTS is a 28-incubator network in Appalachian Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, she said.

This new resource for business start-ups is housed in Room 125 of the Dingus Technology Center on campus.

"I think this is going to be a wonderful program for start-up business in Lawrence County," said Shirley Dyer, director of Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce. "We have several people that come into the county and have no office space or money to rent an entire building. This will give them the opportunity to start up and become successful."

For more information about the new business incubator program, call 740-533-4593 or email workforcesuccess@ohio.edu. Additional information is also available on the school's website at www.ohio.edu/southern/.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

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