August 6, 2012 | last updated August 7, 2012 3:41 pm

Worcester Incubator Aims To Get Entrepreneurs ‘Off The Couch’ And Into Start-up Mode

Ryan Leary

There are people whose dream is to work from home. Then there are others who do so and just want to get out of their sweats and interact with colleagues. For those people in the Worcester area who work for themselves but crave a professional atmosphere, Running Start just might be the answer.

Taking up a floor of the historic Charles Miles House on Lincoln Street, Running Start is an incubator that co-founder Ryan Leary hopes will help foster start-up ventures.

He has verbal commitments from two startups to join.

"It's a way to kind of ease (someone) from working off the couch to the office," he said.

Running Start is an effort by Leary and his two partners at Kennebec Holdings Co., which offers business plan writing, that provides a service to tenants who will pay $250 a month for memberships in the incubator.

In addition to the business plans, the incubator, scheduled to open later this month, will offer networking events for tenants and showcase events, bringing in possible investors for the startups. Leary said Running Start will also host teaching events and business seminars, as well as a mentor program for the entrepreneurs.

"We're going to start reaching out to some professors at local colleges and universities and local business owners and really try to figure out what the members need, what's going to be most beneficial," Leary said.

He said seven people have signed on to join the mentor program, specializing in a range of areas that include business development, financial analysis and recruiting, and he's working on bringing in more. The idea is that tenants could have a mentor to call on when issues arise.

Targeting Seed Funding

Running Start is different from other incubators such as Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives (MBI), for example, which boasts research equipment and lab space. Running Start has about 2,000 square feet of space with 11 flex work stations in one room, with tables divided into cubicles that tenants can access from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Leary is stocking a library and there's a conference room with a Smart TV that has Internet access for video chats. Tenants will pay $10 per hour to use it, and it's available to the public for $25 an hour. The venture also hopes to make seed funding available to startups by the end of the year.

Leary said Running Start is ideal for people in professional services and Web and technology-based startups. The plan is for the incubator to grow as tenants guide it, based on their needs.

"This is the best way to kind of incubate an incubator," Leary said. "We're starting off really homegrown and bootstrapping it. It's been a lot of figuring out as we go along."

Eventually, Leary would like to see Running Start expand into individual offices instead of cubicles.

He cites Running Start's close proximity to Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Gateway Park — less than a mile — as an attraction, suggesting that tenants could collaborate with others at Gateway, or that tenants of MBI's lab space there could also rent office space at Running Start.

Filling A Need In Central Mass.?

While office incubators, like others, are more common to the east, in places like Woburn and Cambridge, Peter Marton, senior business advisor and technology specialist for the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network (SBDC) at Clark University, said there is value in having one in Central Massachusetts.

"My instincts tell me that Worcester definitely could use something like this. A city like this is full of people with ideas and visions for businesses," he said.

Biotech incubators tend to get most of the glory, but Marton said office incubators have significance for startups.

"A lot of times, there's (a) big leap a company takes when it moves out of the garage and into some outside space. It helps the owner of the business legitimize the business, feel that it's more serious, that it's taken one small step toward legitimate success. Sometimes you need to invite potential customers to meet with you ... It's embarrassing to always have to meet at a restaurant or invite them into your kitchen," he said. "Psychologically, it's a big step when someone starts getting up in the morning and driving somewhere." n

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