Opened in 2007 and costing $7.3 million dollars to complete, North Dakota State’s Technology Incubator is celebrating its 10th anniversary as it continues to support growing businesses that relate in one way or another to technology.
The original business model for the Incubator, which still operates today, is to draw a small portion of tenants from the university and take a majority of its tenants from established entrepreneurs that were looking to grow their company. Doing so, Research Park Executive Director Chuck Hoge said, can “diversify the economy and create high-tech jobs.”
Ray Berry, CEO and co-founder of OmniByte Technology, is a current tenant of the Incubator. His relationship with the university has grown since building his tech company in 2015 in Fargo by “always having five NDSU students on staff.”
Two main goals he had in starting OmniByte was to “create jobs” and “bring new technology” to the area. This has brought Berry and OmniByte much success, and his business has grown faster than expected.
Starting with only $2,000 in 2015, OmniByte is on pace to make its first million at the end of the fiscal year. This growth, Berry said, would not be possible without the help of the Incubator and he would like to continue maintaining such a successful relationship.
“I would really like OmniByte to be the first business to sign a multi-room lease at the Research Park,” Berry said.
Besides leasing space to new entrepreneurs, the Incubator also works with NDSU to find student-entrepreneurs.
One way the Incubator attracts university studies is through the Innovation Challenge program. Innovation Challenge gives students the opportunity to present their work and engage with entrepreneurs and business leaders in the community.
There are three rounds to the challenge: innovation proposal where groups pitch their unique idea, semi-final presentation and progress review where groups present their ideas to a panel of judges and are provided feedback and the final presentation where teams use what they learned from the first two rounds to compete for a $5,000 grant from the university.
Protosthetics, an organization that specializes in 3D printing prosthetics, won such a grant and has been growing ever since.
Starting off in NDSU’s Incubator, Protosthetics now has “people moving from the Twin Cities to start working” for them and is “hiring about two new employees per month” according to the company’s Chief Futurist Cooper Bierscheid.
The Incubator would not be possible without the “leadership of the university” or the “dreams and commitment of the community,” Tony Grindberg, Fargo city commissioner and Research Park executive director from 2002 until 2012, said.
Other current Incubator tenants include Bobcat, c2renew, Bank of North Dakota, Discovery Express Kids, Elinor Specialty Coating, Humach, Lift’n Buddy, OpGo Marketing, Probitas Promotions, Format, Renuvix, Summers Manufacturing and the ND Small Business Development Center.
The Incubator offers entrepreneurs such things as state-of-the-art facilities (including a soundproof room for radio frequency identification testing), laboratory spaces, shared production areas, conference rooms, customizable tenant spaces and a common reception area.