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The East Lansing Technology Innovation Center
By Jeffrey Smith
The Lansing region, including Michigan State University (MSU), has long been a producer of high-tech talent. The city of East Lansing’s planning and economic development department acknowledged the need to nurture a technology-based economy in order to keep the talent here. The Technology Innovation Center (TIC) comes into this equation by providing space and resources to start-up businesses, helping them to grow and prosper during their first three years (when statistically, businesses are most vulnerable and prone to failure).
The city held focus groups with potential start-ups in order to identify the resources that new businesses need for growth. The result is a creative, flexible, contemporary space, developed as a high-tech incubator/accelerator located close to the MSU campus. The primary purpose of a low-rent shared office space at the Technology Innovation Center is to cut down on the overhead costs of a small company, allowing early entrepreneurs to invest more of their money into their business.
The East Lansing Downtown Development Authority (DDA) renovated 7,000 square feet of loft-style office space in a central downtown location, close to restaurants, bookstores, convenience stores, and overlooking the Michigan State University campus. The slightly industrial, unfinished look of the TIC provides a creative and contemporary work environment that adds to the technology start-up environment.
The project grew out of a unique partnership between the city of East Lansing, the DDA, the Lansing Regional SmartZone, and the Local Development Finance Authority (LDFA). Nine months since its opening (October 2008), the Technology Innovation Center is bustling with cutting-edge companies and initiatives, emerging as an entrepreneurial hub in the regional knowledge-based economy.
The center had a tremendous start, opening at 80-percent capacity, pointing to the unmet local demand for such a program. In the context of a high office vacancy rate in the Lansing region, the DDA succeeded to rent out all of the TIC offices, reaching full tenant capacity in less than one year. Currently, the TIC houses fourteen new entrepreneurial companies working in fields such as software and web development, homeland security, media arts, telecommunications, and web-based e-commerce. Several tenants are looking for interns, especially students from MSU.
The benefits of this shared work environment were felt immediately. At any given time, you will see tenants popping into each other’s offices, either for advice on business ventures or just to say hello. A particularly notable result of the networking between like-minded companies and successful collaboration in this creative center is ‘Good Fruit,’ a partnership formed between two original TIC tenants (KiWe Productions and Good Time Communications).
The Technology Innovation Center has helped the city of East Lansing to become the high-tech and creative hub of mid-Michigan. The TIC has also brought considerable attention to the East Lansing downtown area through many events, conferences, and meetings held in the space. These partnerships with regional stakeholders have led to events such as a monthly meeting of the Capital Area I.T. Council, Ignite Lansing, and ‘Meaningful Play’ (an MSU-organized international video game conference). These events have brought a variety of professionals to downtown East Lansing, ranging from academics and students to prospective investors and high-tech businesses.
To beautify the entire office area and increase community involvement, the TIC launched a new, ongoing public art exhibition in May known as “Visual Stimulus.” This exhibit showcases local artistic talent while brightening the walls of the TIC and bringing diversified foot traffic into the high-tech space. Through these events and initiatives taking place in downtown East Lansing, the city and DDA are actively enhancing the local culture of entrepreneurship, which is one of the city’s comprehensive goals.
The TIC’s rapid success has attracted the recent relocation and expansion of MSU Technologies as an anchor tenant in the adjacent SmartZone space, and of MSU Business Connect. When MSU Technologies decided to expand, it chose to relocate as an anchor tenant of the Technology Innovation Center because of the potential synergies between MSU Technologies and the technology-based businesses housed within the TIC. This move also strengthens the partnership between the city of East Lansing and the MSU community as a whole.
The TIC currently provides opportunities for MSU graduates and faculty, as well as other entrepreneurs, to develop the new high-tech business ventures that will ultimately serve as catalysts for growth and job creation in the region’s thriving knowledge economy. In addition, the DDA and city staff members will be expanding the program to include creative office space and resources focused on college students to move forward on their own technology or creative startup.
A number of business amenities are available to tenants: conference rooms, reduced cost telephone and internet services, mail, fax, and basic copier services, kitchenette, parking, and basic reception services. In addition to space and office amenities, perhaps the most important resource is the business support from local organizations. Business resources like Lansing Economic Area Partnership (Leap, Inc.) and the Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC), allow the tenants to accelerate and “de-risk” their businesses all the more.
Meetings with these resources are mandatory for tenants of the TIC. The standard lease agreement is for a six-month term, renewable every six months thereafter if milestones and evaluation standards are met. The tenants will have a total of three years to graduate from the program, upon which tenants are greatly encouraged to expand their businesses in the East Lansing community and the Lansing region.
Jeffrey Smith is the New Economic Initiatives project manager for the city of East Lansing. You may reach him at 517-319-6861 or firstname.lastname@example.org.