While the Great Plains Technology Center’s Business Development Center opened in 2017, its work to help develop and grow businesses in the Lawton Fort Sill area has continued for some time.
Business Development Center Coordinator Cody Holt said when he first was hired at Great Plains in 2005 he was assigned as the small business coordinator at the school’s economic development center.
“At that time during the interview they (Great Plains officials) kept talking about ‘when we build our incubator,’” Holt said. “At the time in the economic development center we were effectively a virtual incubator. We had a number of businesses who were clients and we went to them wherever they were whether that is a storefront or at their home.”
Holt said during the time prior to the creation of the Business Development Center, Holt was performing the same type of work to assist businesses that he would later use in the incubator program at the center.
Holt described the incubator program as one where the school helps out individuals who are starting out in business and are willing to be coached by the school and to use the center’s consultant services. He said that prior to the center’s opening on May 5, 2017, several applications were submitted by area businesses to be part of the incubator.
After the center opened in 2017, the first tenants began to move in just days after the center opened.
Holt said the center has 14 tenants with a few more spaces available for tenants who may be interested. He said that generally the center is looking at incubating new businesses for a period of time between three and five years. The reason for this time frame is based upon some strong statistical analysis of what type of businesses succeed or fail and what the time frame is for such results.
“They say 80 percent of new businesses fail within the first five years,” he said. “If they work with business coaches and consultants, however, 87 percent are still in business at the five-year period. Our goal is being there to help them succeed and then go from there.”
Holt said the center offers businesses that may not otherwise have business acumen, but which have skills in their respective areas to succeed. He said the goal of the center is to provide consulting services from simple business management issues to more complex matters. He said the center offers coaching on all sorts of business issues from human resources to accounting and tax matters to marketing and social media engagement.
The businesses which are part of the center are also extremely diverse, Holt said.
There are two tenants in the mental health field, an esthetician who rents space in the center, a science and technology company owned by a veteran, a certified public accountant and several other businesses in a variety of fields.
In addition to coaching and consulting services, the center also serves as a one-stop location for all of the tenant’s business needs. Holt said the center has a lecture hall and two conference rooms. The conference rooms can be booked by tenants at no additional charge and have a number of technological capabilities that are very important in the modern business world.
He said the conference rooms have the ability to do Zoom, Skype and Facebook Live type live meetings and is beneficial for tenants who have clients or business partners in other locations.
Like any good business, the center also has a resource room complete with a copier, computer and laminating machine for the use of the center’s tenants.
Holt said the tenants are not viewed as autonomous entities, but part of the whole environment the center is trying to create.
“We want people to work together,” he said. “We like to try to do things where people feel like they are part of the team.”
Part of that teamwork concept is to have monthly meetings for tenants where they can have seminars to teach them a variety of business related topics. Holt said the center tries to bring in a wide variety of speakers and presenters to give tenants a broad range of knowledge from which to draw upon.
Holt said that 64 percent of the businesses are affiliated either directly or indirectly to the military. More than 70 percent of the businesses in the incubator also are owned by women, which Holt said is a very encouraging.
Holt isn’t the only one who helps tenants on a daily basis during the work week. He is assisted by Dana Newsom, the center’s assistant, who helps clients by answering questions and pointing them in the right direction for their needs.
Holt said the center is in a way its own community, and while the focus is on getting businesses to graduate from the program after three to five years, he said that unlike some incubators that push tenants out after a certain period, Great Plains will always be here to help, no matter how long it takes to help a business to succeed.
“We view everything and every client on a case by case basis,” he said. “We want to work with them wherever they are and help them to grow their business. Even if they move out of the incubator we still want to help them through our economic development center, which is the next level after they leave here.”