ANDERSON — Opportunities that couldn’t be passed up prompted the Flagship Enterprise Center to branch out from its core mission of providing advice and capital to entrepreneurs in and around Madison County.
But the center’s partners with the city of Anderson and Anderson University seem united behind a vision articulated by new CEO Terry Truitt, who has vowed to renew the Flagship’s focus on incubating new businesses.
“The Flagship is moving back toward that incubation mission,” said Greg Winkler, executive director of the Anderson Economic Development Department. “It will be more focused on technology and the opportunities for incubation in the tech sector. We kind of got away from that for a little while while I was on the board because we were so focused on getting the Purdue Polytechnic Institute up and running.”
Truitt said, “It’s a chance to go back to our roots, but it’s also a chance to build on what we’ve created so far. We want to be able to go back and create again not just virtual incubation, but also a physical space for incubation as well.”
To that end, much of the 53,000 square feet of space at the facility has been re-configured to include conference rooms and classroom space. The third floor contains 19 dormitories and community space, which Truitt says will house AU students who are part of the university's Masters of Business Administration program. The students will live on site, work at co-ops, take classes and participate in projects to earn academic credits. These students, Truitt says, could eventually become Flagship employees or clients.
“I see hands-on-with-the-client incubation as being an important way to grow business,” Truitt said. “Greg Winkler’s job is to go out there, find the big company, bring it to town. He’s the hunter. He goes and brings them in. We here, we are going to be the farmer. We’re going to plant the seed, we’re going to nurture the crop. We want to grow things from Anderson, in Anderson to be bigger and better. That’s our intent.”
As Anderson continues to reinvent its business sector — replacing the engineering, skilled trades and labor-intensive General Motors jobs from the late 20th century with a wave of high-tech jobs at companies like Keihin, Sirmax, Italpollina and others — it will be important, according to Truitt and others, to ensure that small businesses remain on solid footing.
“The Flagship is an integral part of our community and our efforts at economic development,” Anderson Mayor Tom Broderick said. “Since the time Terry joined the Flagship as CEO, he has made a concerted effort to work directly with me to ensure the city’s close involvement with Flagship.”
JB Shelton, who owns Detour Salon & Style in Anderson, said her business is a prime example of the Flagship’s success as an incubator. Shelton, who opened Detour in December 2016, received financing, business planning advice and other help from the Flagship. Her salon has grown from 12 to 20 employees, and revenue has doubled in less than three years, she said.
“I don’t know that I would have been able to make it this far this fast without the support from the Flagship,” Shelton said. “It’s a great resource for a small business person because we don’t have the money to hire those professionals.”
For Truitt, reviving the Flagship’s emphasis on incubation is a way of more firmly identifying the center with the community it serves.
“With our previous effort at incubation, it worked like other incubators in the area,” he said. “They had physical space. We had landlords, we had tenants. We subsidized their space and rent and gave them a place to try to grow. But we weren’t really helping them in their business.
“That’s where we want to be — in their business,” he added. “We want to provide financial support for them. Our intent is to use Bankable to provide the capital they can’t get anywhere else. We want to provide the physical space for them. But also, we want to provide that business assistance, that business consulting to help them make wise decisions and grow.”
Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.