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The Fitzgeralds are among many black entrepreneurs turning to an incubator to ensure their success

couple ran the business out of their home, but since 2001, it has been housed in The Enterprise Center, which has been instrumental in Palmer Estate’s growth. David says they started off as an affiliate without office space, “But we still had access to [TEC's] resources, such as training, marketing, accounting, and technical services.”

TEC helped Palmer Estate secure $125,000 in financing, including a $50,000 line of credit with United Bank of Philadelphia- a BE 100S company.

The Fitzgeralds now rent a 2,200-square-foot suite at TEC as their headquarters. They store smaller items in their offices and larger items in a warehouse in New Jersey. TEC and the Wharton Small Business Development Center also helped the Fitzgeralds win a business plan competition for minority entrepreneurs in 2001 in which the couple was awarded a $20,000 cash prize. The assistance TEC gave Palmer Estate has been invaluable, says Chioma. “We went from earning about $10,000 [gross revenues] a month to about $30,000 a month, so we have grown three-fold since joining TEC.”

Consider the following to decide if your business is right for an incubator:

Range of Services: Make sure the incubation program offers the services and contacts you need, such as business plan development, procurement and contracting, and access to capital. Some incubators work with companies in a particular niche such as gourmet foods or technology. To find a business incubation program in your area, contact the National Business Incubation Association, 20 E. Circle Drive, No. 37198, Athens, OH 45701; 740-593-4331; www.nbia.org.

Track Record: Talk to current and former tenants about their experiences at the incubator. Find out how long, on average, clients have remained in the program. Determine the experience and entrepreneurial success of the staff. Also, find out the success rate of companies that have left the incubator.

Graduation Policy: Before you enter an incubator, find out how and when you are expected to leave. Clark says traditionally, incubators will house successful startups for three to five years, after which time, they move them out to make room for new tenants. TEC seeks to build long-term relationships with its clients. Determine what the exit criteria are and how flexible the policy is.

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