A Turn For The Better

For one struggling startup, an incubator offered a turnaround solution


Williams applied for membership to the Factory incubator in July 2003. “I got a tour and a huge packet of paperwork,” she recalls. But she was turned down because she needed to enhance her business plan — a requirement of the incubator. Contract-business specialist Lesse Barnett helped Williams adjust her business plan to make the financial projections more thorough. Williams was accepted four months later.

Making the Right Connections
Williams saw the incubator program as an opportunity to acquire reliable administrative support for her business, since she no longer had a staff. From the time she joined, she says, her mentors were instrumental in improving her success rate by teaching her how to prepare a solid bid and by introducing her to agencies interested in negotiating with her.

One of the key contacts Williams made was Tom Westerlund, who provided training at the Procurement Technical Assistance Center in Tacoma. “Tom has played a major role in assisting me in locating bid opportunities, understanding how to interpret solicitations, assisting with government registrations and certifications, as well as with training and seminars,” she says.

Residency in the incubator also scored Williams regular invitations to networking events, which positioned her company to land potential contracts. In November 2005, Barnett introduced Williams to an executive from the Northwest Minority Business Council, which was hosting an event sponsored by Microsoft Corp. “By attending this event, I obtained additional contacts with Microsoft, Costco, and Nike that could be a benefit for my organization with future ventures,” says Williams.

The Factory incubator employs 12 high-level professionals who work closely with volunteers from the Tacoma business community, explains Colleen Barta, assistant manager to Barnett. The advisers either work as a team or individually with incubator businesses to offer services such as a mentor network, business management, and highly technical expertise. Other services include drafting requests for proposals and creating marketing and public relations campaigns. “We act as advocates for you,” says Barta. “We have government contacts checking on requests for proposals that are out there in the pipeline.”

A Turnaround in Progress
Almost two years have passed since Williams joined the program, and her business has physically outgrown the incubator. In addition to the lower-cost space the Factory incubator provides, she needed two office areas for her 11 new employees. And the results of such growth are showing.

Williams recently won an eight-month, $2.5 million Army contract to supply, among other items, physical training suits for the Iraqi Highway Patrol. Although that contract is Another Level’s biggest success, six other major bids are anticipated, in addition to other opportunities to become a supplier. “She couldn’t have won that large contract when she first arrived,” says Barta. While Williams expects to remain in the incubator for another year, she is confident that her chances for success are solid once she moves out on her own.

Signs Your Business is Ripe for a Turnaround
If your company is struggling, communicate with vendors and clients to reassure them that you are addressing the problems. Finally, counsels Kramer,

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