DDA working on business incubator to help small "underground" businesses thrive

The building at 110 Broad St. will house the Rome Downtown Development Authority’s new business incubator.

Rome’s Downtown Development Authority and Community Development Department are working to promote their business incubator project by sending out surveys to potential partners and developers.

The business incubator project is being headed up by DDA Director Aundi Lesley and Community Development Director Bekki Fox. The project has been a dream for city official for many years, they said, and with the availability of American Rescue Plan Act funds, the dream is finally becoming a reality.

A business incubator provides a space and resources to help small start-ups develop and thrive. Entrepreneurs will be able to both make their products and sell them in the space.

In December, the city of Rome purchased a building at 110 Broad St. for $436,000.

“This is going to be a game changer for young people, for job creation, small businesses and entrepreneurship,” Fox said.

The next step for Fox and Lesley is to begin renovations in the space and design the layout. Fox mentioned that there’s already a commercial kitchen installed, so they can incubate a restaurant or bakery.

They also plan to have a space specifically designed for people to work on their business and another area to hold business classes.

However, before they can get started on this, Fox and Lesley will be sending out surveys to potential partners and stakeholders. The survey will ask for feedback on what people would like to see, what they would like to do with the project.

Potential partners include the Rome Chamber, the Rome-Floyd Development Authority and local schools such as Berry College and the high school college and career academies.

“We also want to put together a general entrepreneur survey to send out to business owners in Rome and Floyd County,” Lesley said. “We want to know what are the things that you look for as a business owner, what do you need help with, what does the process look like for you currently, do you operate out of your home or your own business place. Then we can figure out what we’re currently working with and, hopefully, put a business plan together.”

Once ready, the incubator will begin taking applications from local entrepreneurs. There would be some fees involved to help pay for the classes and other services.

After receiving feedback and meeting with leaders of other business incubators in various communities, Lesley and Fox will put together a business incubator summit sometime in late winter or early spring to present a clearer picture of what the business incubator will eventually look like.

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