When Spencer Howington opened his furniture and office supplies store, he navigated the business world alone.
He hired an accountant and lawyer to help guide him, but said he mostly learned as he went. Now, almost four years later, Howington's Pembroke business is successfully operating.
He hopes the University of North Carolina at Pembroke's new incubator will make it easier for startup businesses to open in Pembroke.
"Truthfully, had it been available, I would have benefited from it," Howington said from the opening celebration on Monday. "The help and direction this could have given me would have been great."
University officials, politicians and community leaders celebrated the opening of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke's new $1.2 million Entrepreneurship Incubator on Monday. The incubator, intended as the first step in Pembroke's revitalization, will house nine startup businesses, helping them transition to independence.
The incubator will serve a 10-county region from the Sandhills to the coast, according to the university. It will offer start-up businesses consulting services, mentoring, education and professional development, providing clients with university partnerships and playing host for seminars and workshops.
The space is 17,000-square feet and includes private offices, as well as a conference room with teleconferencing technology.
So far, three or four startup businesses have submitted partial applications, said Cammie Hunt, the associate vice chancellor for engaged outreach at the university, who wrote the grant applications to cover the cost of the project.
"This project has allowed Pembroke to position itself as an economic driver in the region," she said. "We're setting this as a place for high tech companies to come and locate."
As an economic driver, the incubator will operate in an economically challenged Robeson County.
From an academic standpoint, the incubator will provide a hands-on laboratory for the university's business-minded students.
Consultants with the school's Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship and the Small Business and Technology Development Center are already housed in the building.
Robin Gary Cummings, chancellor of the university, called the incubator a "game changer."
He said the incubator concept will connect the university's students - the next wave of startup business owners - with the real world. And the region will benefit from their emerging ideas.
"How can we take the university across the railroad tracks into the world?" he said. "How can we take what we do and make it into something that affects people in a tangible way? I hope people will embrace this center, embrace this university as a tool for this region."
Staff writer Amanda Dolasinski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3528.