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Small-business incubator to launch in downtown Manassas

July 25,2016 02:13

But in recent years, private-sector companies have gotten more into the accelerator/co-work business, Small said, providing communal environments where workers such as freelancers, consultants or telecommuters can work alongside one another.

Manassas officials recently approved a $200,000 grant to help turn the first floor of the Hynson building at Center and Main streets into a co-work space and business incubator. (Jonathan Hunley/For The Washington Post) When downtown department stores were common, shoppers could head to 9073 Center St. in Manassas for household goods, or as an ad in a 1929 issue of the Manassas Journal said, for “show boat” dresses. The current owners of that brick building, however, hope to attract a different kind of customer: entrepreneurs. That’s because the landmark at Main and Center streets, the former Hynson’s Department Store, is slated to house a co-work space and business incubator in the next four to six months. More recently, the Hynson building has been home to a branch of the Fauquier Bank and an office for Fiducial, which provides accounting services to businesses. But ECU Communications, a digital marketing and advertising firm, and the financial planning company Whitlock Wealth Management announced in May that they bought the building with a plan to put their offices on the second floor and open the first floor to shared work space. Jacqueline Krick, ECU’s founder and president, said last week that the companies paid $1.3 million for the structure. Krick described the shared space as a hybrid of a business “accelerator” and co-work center, which can serve small businesses that include those that need help with financing and training programs and those that simply need workspace. “We want to cater to both,” she said. The operation also is getting a boost from Manassas’s government, which recently approved a $200,000 grant to help ECU and Whitlock get the accelerator going. Another business incubator that was run in connection with George Mason University had been serving the Manassas area at GMU’s Science and Technology Campus in western Prince William County, but it closed last year. Even before that, however, Manassas officials had been pondering how another kind of incubator might best serve the city. Historically, such operations have been run by public entities, but they can be expensive propositions that do not necessarily make enough money to cover costs, said Patrick Small, Manassas’s economic development director. But in recent years, private-sector­ companies have gotten more into the accelerator/co-work business, Small said, providing communal environments where workers such as freelancers, consultants or telecommuters can work alongside one another. And in Manassas, the notion of using a public-private partnership to nurture fledgling firms in an incubator setting got a boost when ECU expressed interest in moving into Old Town. “During that process, they fell in love with the Fauquier Bank building,” he said. His office connected the company with Whitlock, and the conversation eventually turned to creating the incubator as part of the package for the historic building. ECU and Whitlock will bear the initial costs of preparing the 3,800-square-foot first floor of the Hynson building, and once they obtain an occupancy permit for the space, they will get the $200,000 grant. That incentive would be paid back to Manassas, however, if the venture fails within its first three years. ECU and Whitlock will own the accelerator and operate it as a for-profit business, but they will contract with Historic Manassas, a nonprofit organization, to manage the daily operations, Small said. His office, meanwhile, will assist with promoting the operation, identifying tenants and offering other services. And other existing local businesses will provide free assistance to the accelerator members, Small said. The idea is that once the entrepreneurs outgrow their temporary space, they might then become paying customers of the companies that initially donated their time. In the same way, Manassas officials hope that as the new businesses leave the incubator, they will decide to stay within the confines of the city and continue to contribute to the local economy. Mayor Harry J. “Hal” Parrish II (R) said the move to get the accelerator going is another positive development in Manassas that follows infrastructure improvements in Old Town and the success of other businesses. “We’re accomplishing a lot; we’re doing a lot in the city right now,” he said. City Manager W. Patrick Pate also praised the public-private partnership as a way that Manassas can help small businesses prosper. “This shows the commitment of the city to provide economic opportunities for entrepreneurs in our community,” Pate said in a statement. “We are extremely excited to see this partnership and the commitment of these businesses to the city of Manassas.”

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