Ready For Takeoff

Mission, possible: It's easier than ever to launch your new business, thanks to business incubators that help start-ups fly.

When John Spomar III signed a lease for the photo studio of his dreams, located in a Chicago business incubator, the commercial photographer wasn't exactly sure what to expect.

"All I knew was, I was tired of working from my parents' house and telling clients that they couldn't come to my `studio,' because we would have been meeting in my bedroom," says Spomar. "I needed some respectability, and the price was right."

After signing the lease the day before his 24th birthday, Spomar could now access a studio to die for. The 1,600-square-foot office even included a real darkroom--a definite step up from developing pictures in his parents' laundry room.

That was five years ago. Today Spomar, 29, is three months shy of graduating from the Chicago Southland Enterprise Center. With incubator experience in his arsenal, he feels well-equipped to leave the nest--and find success in the commercial photography business.

"Thanks to the incubator, I've been able to completely devote the past five years to building my business, and it's really paid off," says Spomar, whose company, John Spomar Productions Inc., is making a name for itself in the Chicago area. "I've increased my sales by 20 percent each year. Without the incubator, I wouldn't have come this far."

Spomar is part of a growing number of young entrepreneurs taking advantage of the incubators sprouting up all over the country. In many ways, such establishments are similar to their namesake. Within a protected, safe environment, start-up entrepreneurs get a cost-effective place to nurse their fledgling businesses until they're mature enough to take flight on their own.

While incubating their businesses, tenants have access to a number of benefits, including such services as secretarial and receptionist help, business and technical expertise, and assistance seeking financing. They also enjoy perks not available to bigger businesses, including office space at below-market rates, flexible lease agreements and opportunities to network with a variety of start-up entrepreneurs.

Julie Bawden Davis ( specializes in homebased and small-business issues. She wishes there were an incubator for freelance writers so she'd have someone besides her cat to talk to all day.

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This article was originally published in the February 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Ready For Takeoff.

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