By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
A business incubator may be set up in Wood County to help local inventors hatch their ideas.
The Wood County Commissioners heard a proposal Tuesday morning from Rene Polin, president and founder of Balance, a company that helps entrepreneurs turn their ideas into reality.
“You can’t just be a dreamer. You have to be a dreamer with a business plan,” Polin said.
And that’s where Balance would come in to the picture.
“We want to bring our panache in the industry from Cleveland to Wood County,” Polin said.
To do that, Polin needs some type of very basic workspace – something with office space, power and connectivity. “I know that sounds primitive,” but that’s all that’s needed, he said. The firm’s Cleveland space is an old factory building.
The firm works with entrepreneurs, helping them assess their plans, fill out necessary paperwork, and determine if the project is worth their time and investment.
After all, most inventors aren’t good business people, explained Doug Miller, of the Wood County Economic Development Commission which is working to bring Balance here.
“They don’t have any idea how to run a business,” Polin agreed. “We bring the management acumen.”
The business incubator can help entrepreneurs determine if there is a market for their product, Miller said. “People get focused on their invention,” but if the public won’t buy it, the idea isn’t going anywhere, he said.
Sometimes, the dreams need to be tweaked.
“We ask the hard questions,” Polin said. “We don’t kill the dream, but we change their idea of what their dream can be.”
By using consumer research and focus groups, the incubator can help gauge the success of a product.
The Balance firm has seen its own success – just by helping others achieve their dreams, Polin said. One such story is the Comfort Adjust Pillow that is currently being sold on the QVC shopping network.
Several other ideas are being worked on now at the business incubator in Cleveland, including a pet grooming device. Polin said the inventor is being assisted with getting a patent, refining a prototype and testing it on different animals. The incubator also helps entrepreneurs decide if they want to produce the item themselves or license their creation to someone already in the business.
Other inventions being tinkered with at the incubator now include a “super simple” non-powered French press for coffee. An Italian coffee company is looking at that, Polin said. Then there’s the digital app that helps get excess farm products sold in markets. And the football fantasy idea that the inventor wants to get online by draft day next year. And the drug therapy device that is the brain child of an emergency room doctor from Youngstown.
“There are probably hundreds of people here who have ideas,” Polin said. “Everyone has an idea, right?”
Of course, not all inventions make it. Of the three to four entrepreneurs who seek help each month, probably one or two actually succeed.
“Not all of them will move forward,” Polin said. “There’s a ‘kiss it or kill it’ moment in the process.”
And often it makes more sense for the entrepreneur to license their idea to someone already in business, and just collect royalties, he said.
Wood County Commissioner Craig LaHote suggested that the Big Fab Lab with its “makers’ space” at the Woodland Mall may be a good location for the business incubator. Wade Gottschalk, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission, said that a partnership with that site may be possible.
Polin estimated his firm’s monthly fee for Wood County would be about $5,000.
“The best part about this is you don’t need a huge investment in space right now,” he told the county commissioners.
Polin said once the incubator sets up shop, it won’t be hard to find the inventors.
“My guess is you’re not going to have trouble getting people interested,” he said. “We know we could build something right here in Wood County.”
The commissioners agreed to review Polin’s proposal and make a decision.