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Efforts last year to create a local facility, termed a workspace “with the convenience and sociability of a neighborhood café” in White Rock may have taken an unusual twist. I’m referring to that facility there known as “The Hive,” and in the press recently about its continuing challenges.
It was originally termed a “live experiment” in converting an underutilized building into a “community of freelancers, entrepreneurs, independent inventors and innovators, startups, small businesses, big company telecommuters, field workers, and other laptop nomads who are tired of working alone at home or in crowded and noisy coffee shops.”
While that’s one heck of a blue-sky statement, and in my time working with technology startups I’ve seen a lot of “blue-sky,” just maybe … after a year of this “experiment,” what we need is something more focused and deliberate.
First of all, the Hive is off the beaten path. I would not argue with this assessment. But a reformulation of The Hive’s basic value proposition could mitigate that extended sense of place. If anything, a proper reformulation would easily (and cheaply) prove out, for county considerations, the entire notion of creating an even more extensive I.T.I. (industrial-technology incubator). Hint: we’re not talking fancy glass buildings here with university logos on the sides.
This idea of a beta incubator test facility is not without precedent. Other DOE communities I’m familiar with, from Oak Ridge-Knoxville to Richland to Idaho Falls, have all recognized the spinoff potential of their national laboratories. They have invested one toe in the water at a time, in what are now highly successful, municipally-funded, startup incubators for their lab spin-offs. In every case, the community has benefited by orders of magnitude, with the incubators repaying local investments many times over.
With a reformulation of The Hive’s basic business model and some interim aid and assistance, the location in White Rock could become something much more attuned. Presently termed “community project space,” the purpose is unclear, being seen more as a hobby shop, rather than something that could provide equipped, flexible space for tech entrepreneurs or non-tech businesses starting out. Lack of contributory, non-profit legal status is also evident.
It’s important to remember there are standards of conduct for incubators. First and foremost, businesses have to “graduate.” The low-cost incubation period is there to assist in the germinal phase of the business concept. This presupposes a level of support from the operator, providing critical inputs like internet and broadband, accounting, personnel and marketing tech support, along with any specific regulatory assistance, should that be necessary.
In summary, it’s a no-brainer to say Los Alamos has a globally recognized, outstanding “brand presence.”
Yet, I’m sometimes mystified at locals who seem to be indifferent about this extremely valuable cachet. Well folks, here’s the “secret sauce:” that cachet is only valuable if we can put it to work for us locally. Right now we are missing tons of business possibilities. Getting some kind of incubator up and running properly should be a key priority.
Sellers is a venture coach with DOE lab experience; he is currently VP of the Los Alamos Entrepreneurs Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org