Start-up companies laud business center

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 13, 2002

Jena Thompson had a laboratory set up in a small building on her property. Steve Kohlman’s dining room was his shipping department.

Both entrepreneurs had promising ideas for businesses, but both needed space. That’s where the new Albert Lea Business Development Center came in.

Thompson, CEO of Daisy Blue Naturals, and Kohlman, owner of Acquila Corporation, are the first two tenants of the business incubator in Albert Lea, which celebrated its grand opening with an open house and dedication ceremony Wednesday.

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The concept is to provide competitively priced space for startup businesses while making life easier for entrepreneurs by providing equipment, advice and the chance to be part of a community of people all working toward the same goal: Turning an idea into a successful business.

Thompson’s idea was a line of all-natural body-care products and cosmetics, which are sold by independent sales consultants who conduct in-home shows. Her business has been growing briskly, with nearly 50 consultants signed on in six states.

She will move into the center in July, and said that will allow her to use larger mixing vats and take advantage of the customized space the ALBDC is creating for her business. The building is designed with flexibility in mind, making it possible to reconfigure rooms to fit the needs of tenants.

&uot;The sooner we get in here, the faster we’ll grow,&uot; Thompson said. &uot;The staff is wonderful. They’re so supportive.&uot;

Greater Jobs, Inc. manages the center and has set up its administrative offices there. The agency, along with the Albert Lea Port Authority &045; an arm of the city &045; and Riverland Community College, with funding from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Fund and Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services, helped make the center reality.

Kohlman has been moved into the center since before it was complete. He is the inventor of a special wheelchair cushion that uses a grid of alternately inflating and deflating air-filled cells to keep users from developing pressure sores.

He said the center’s staff has been able to find him answers to any questions he has, whether he’s curious about marketing or seeking advice on electronics. He’s most looking forward to working alongside other entrepreneurs.

&uot;We can kind of exchange ideas and help each other,&uot; he said.

Daisy Blue Naturals will employ six people when it moves into the center; Kohlman just hired his first two employees. Both say they hope to move out onto their own &045; they hope into Freeborn County &045; once they outgrow their space at the center.

Having a place where start-up businesses can blossom is an important part of helping them grow and establish themselves in the community, said Allen Pelvit, President of the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce.

After all, the ideas for small businesses are out there; they could just benefit from a little help.

&uot;It’s important to be prepared and be ready to take the opportunity when it arises,&uot; Pelvit said.