Incubating new business in Sooke

SookeSpace: Mission impossible, or not? Economic change needed.

Michael Clouser

What exactly is the industrial base of Sooke?

There once was an answer to that.

An article by Sooke historian Elida Peers (“Where the rain forest meets the sea,” posted on the Sooke district website) presents a long history of logging and fishing. The article concludes with the ominous line, “Until a decade ago, it was the harvesting of the rainforest that built the economy of the district, and fed the coffers of the province.”

Which begs the question, what sustains Sooke’s economy, now and into the future?

Sooke’s 2011 Official Community Plan presents us as a “bedroom community” for Victoria.

Some, like Ken Stratford, have a vision of Sooke being a hub for telecommuters.

Hope — in and of itself — will not bring about economic change to the greater Sooke region.

Maybe what is needed is a serious shake-up, a radical re-thinking of what Sooke can offer.

One individual offering an alternative framework is Sooke’s Michael Clouser, who is in the beginning throes of exploring an entrepreneur’s incubator here in Sooke.

“Incubation is a process that provides a framework of support to help entrepreneurs build business and social organizations that are profitable and sustainable,” explained Clouser.

Clouser knows business. Currently an associate faculty member at Royal Roads, his bio reads, “He was the CEO of Cornell-affiliated Student Agencies Incorporated in Ithaca, New York. Run by students, the firm had 14 operating companies, $20 million in real estate assets, an incubator, and student venture fund.”

He was also involved in establishing TechCube, an incubator in Edinburgh.

“I helped start TechCube in Edinburgh,” said Clouser. “It’s a mixed arts and technology incubator near the University of Edinburgh.”

Clouser said incubators help nurture businesses through start-up and often launch their success.

“An incubator helps nurture start-up companies and/or not-profit organizatons get through the very early stages of life which are the most difficult and where the prospect of death is very apparent, since most startup ventures fail. An incubator may have physical space associated with it, or not. Either way it provides business advisory support, management guidance, educational programs, mentor networks, and other resources. It helps the founders and early management teams of ventures with strategy and the acquisition of resources to grow as well.”

Clouser’s vision for an incubator in Sooke is one with three “verticals,” or areas of concentration, tapping into some of the core strengths of the community: Arts, technology, and food production.

It’s codename, for now, is “SookeSpace.”

“Eventually, the vision is to have a space, a physical location, with probably various wings to the building for two things mainly. One is for creativity and a space where you can make things. And another one is about excelaration and incubation of new organizations.” He is also passionately committed to food production and sustainability. Ideally, the space would be centrally located, accessible on foot or by bicycle.

“It would help create jobs, eventually, that could be sustaining for the community, instead of being a bedroom community.”

Clouser believes everybody has some form of creativity. “An incubator gives them the space to create,” allowing them to make a living from their passion, be it in the arts, in business, or in the garden.

At the project’s end, he envisions a 40,000 square foot building (built in segments, up and out) that offers start-ups a reduced rent and access to key start-up resources like fundraising and resource acquisition expertise.

There would be an expectation of start-ups benefitting from the incubation centre to give back to to the community to youth and senior through volunteerism. Examples can include things like education and training.

To get there, he will need a core team of five to six people who share the vision. He already has a few people in mind. Clouser is currently engaged in pre-incubation conversations with a number of entrepreneurs in Sooke, and is looking for others who might be interested. He is also engaged in discussions with the three post-secondary educational institute in our midsts: Royal Roads, University of Victoria, and Camosun College.

To reach Michael Clouser, email michael.clouser@gmail.com

According to the Canadian Association of Business Incubation (cabi.ca), an incubator is a start-up hub “engaged in business incubation and economic development, dedicated to supporting the growth of new and emerging businesses.”

A Forbes article (“Five Reasons 8 Out Of 10 Businesses Fail”) states that 80 per cent of all new business ventures fail. Entrepreneur Incubators reverse those numbers. CABI states, “The average survival rate of companies in Canada that go through business incubation has been shown to be higher than 80% after five years.”

Entrepreneurial incubation is not new. The first U.S. incubator was founded in New York in 1959 by Joseph Mancuso. According to the National Business Incubation Association there are over 7,000 business incubators world wide.

And, if it chooses to accept the mission, Sooke can help that number go up a notch.

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