Three years ago, West Des Moines city officials thought opening a business incubator would be important to help small enterprises in the city.

Today they believe they’ve proved themselves right.

“We’ve been able to show people it is worthwhile,” said Clyde Evans, West Des Moines’ director of community and economic development and executive director of the incubator.Evans helps run the incubator along with Assistant Executive Director Jo Eckert.

“There’s so much people can do that all they need is a little bit of encouragement,” adds Eckert. “And they can do wonders.”

A little bit of help is what the incubator tries to provide for small business owners trying to get out of their home office and into the world. 

The incubator, which celebrated its third anniversary in December, provides affordable office space, a conference room, monthly speakers and even a foosball table to help residents brainstorm during late nights at work.

So far, two companies have graduated from the incubator to their own locations: Appcore LLC, which provides cloud-based Web services for companies, and KCL Engineering LLC, which provides mechanical, electrical, plumbing and lighting services with an emphasis on energy efficiency. 

KCL grew from “two guys in a basement” to a staff of 10 when it graduated in January, Eckert said.

Although Evans and Eckert manage the incubator, it’s actually a 501(c)(3) organization and is funded primarily from donations.

Evans sees the incubator as a “tip of the iceberg” for the city when it comes to advancing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and job growth in West Des Moines. He points to the possibility of the incubator housing a “STEAM Center” (the ‘A’ standing for art) and the city further promoting STEM education initiatives in schools, including a possible “Tech High” school at Des Moines Area Community College’s West campus. 

“It all looks a little disjointed but it all does kind of mesh in one way or another,” Evans said. “I think that the business incubator was one step in the total process.”

Move on the way

The next big step for the incubator will be moving to a new location later this year. The incubator has been leasing space from Mid-America Group at 2829 Westown Parkway but plans to move to the space currently occupied by West Des Moines Human Services at 318 Fifth St. It will lease the building for $1 a year for 10 years. West Des Moines Human Services department is moving to the former Wright Services building at Sixth and Maple streets.

Who’s in the incubator?

• Three Razors Media
• SocialWise Media Group
• Revenue Inbound
• eVizzit
• Black iops
• Small Business Development Center’s International Trade Center
• IowaShopHop
• Xstreaming
• Iowa State University’s Center for Industrial Research and Service
• Two former incubator companies have been bought by competitors, and a handful of the small business owners formerly in the space have shuttered their companies to take jobs at a larger company.

Different styles

There are a few differences between the  West Des Moines Business Incubator and StartupCity Des Moines business incubator: • StartupCity is geared toward high-growth technology companies. The West Des Moines incubator is available to any small company that needs an office space. 

• StartupCity takes an equity interest in its resident companies; the West Des Moines incubator does not.
• The West Des Moines incubator is a 501(c)(3) organization; StartupCity is a business.
• The West Des Moines incubator has private offices for each resident company; StartupCity has an open floor plan.

Working together

The West Des Moines Business Incubator doesn’t see StartupCity Des Moines as its competition. The two make a point to work together, often collaborating on events and referring potential residents to the other incubator when it makes sense. 

Both are part of the StartupIowa initiative of incubators around the state. As part of that partnership, residents of the incubators can use space at another incubator in another city when traveling.

Evans and Eckert have also spoken with Emerge, a Simpson College-based incubator, on how the two could work together.  

“I don’t think anyone feels any competition with the other,” Eckert said.