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Launching opportunity: The Southern Launch business incubator opens at OUS

A new business incubator has opened in conjunction with Ohio University Southern and it is called The Southern Launch.

On Wednesday, an open house was held in room 125 in the Dingus Building, which has been equipped with workspaces to help entrepreneurs who need a physical space get a start.

The Southern Launch is the result of an idea that began a couple of years of creating a space in Lawrence County to provide start-up business with office space and access to equipment and services that may have otherwise been to cost-prohibitive for a new company to afford on its own.

Jennifer Simon, the executive director of Regional Innovation for Ohio University, runs LIGHTS Regional Innovation program in Athens. It serves 28 counties in three states.

“We have been working in Ironton for almost three years now,” she said. That time was spent asking questions about what was needed and whether there was enough support for business incubator. They came to the conclusion that it could.

“We thought ‘Let’s try it, let’s develop a space and see what we can do,’” she said.

They are already in talks with one entrepreneur who needs physical space and three that will work virtually, but need the support the incubator can offer.

Simon said those who are a part of the incubator will be able to access services such as training classes, direct introduction to funding sources and networking.

“There is a menu of what it means to be an incubator client,” she said. “It can be counseling or it can be a broader spectrum of access to services.”

The goal is for the client to graduate to having their own building and continue to grow in the community.

Ohio University has a long history working with business incubators. OU in Athens began the first university-based business incubator in Ohio in 1983 and the 12th in the nation. In 2003, the Innovation Center was opened to offer businesses a shared workspace with access to office equipment and access to experts to help coach and provide insight. It currently houses 19 businesses.

“Ohio University has learned a lot throughout that time,” Simon said. “We have taken a while to learn what will work in other communities and how we can replicate the success we have had in Athens and make it relate to Ironton.”

Nicole Pennington, interim executive dean for OHIO Higher Education and Dean of Southern, said she is happy to have The Southern Launch on the Ironton campus.

“I think the incubator gives an opportunity to people who are interested in starting a new business, or if they have a great idea, the resources to help make it come to fruition,” she said. “I think these opportunities are important to all our regions, so the fact a branch campus of Ohio University can extend it out to our region is so important. I think there are many opportunities to that we can grow that concept throughout the regional campus system.”

Sarah Diamond Burroway, OUS’s director of External Relations and Communications and Workforce Success, said she feels good about The Southern Launch coming to fruition.

“I think that the services and space that it will provide helps illustrate the university’s commitment to entrepreneurs and start ups,” she said, adding that many people don’t realize they have permission to pursue their own business concepts in spite of the economic conditions in the region. “Having a space like this, having services like this on campus and in Lawrence County is a strong indicator to people that they can pursue their dreams. They can lean on support from The Southern Launch through the LIGHTS Regional Innovation program and from our partners. We want a viable economy, we want to support those who want to create their own businesses.”