By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Did you know that the Innovation Lab at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) is one of only 16 centers in the U.S. designated by the International Business Innovation Association (InBIA) as a “Soft Landings” site?
We certainly did not until a recent visit with Audrey Depelteau, Director of the ETSU facility. She will be on a panel in Dallas next week at InBIA’s conference discussing the way the ETSU program works.
The session will explore essential aspects of the program that Depelteau says “helps recruits and lands international companies.” It is one of five concurrent sessions that follow the conference’s keynote speech.
Topics to be covered during the panel include establishing strategic relationships, facilitating the visa process, creating robust networks to help companies grow into new markets, helping foreign entrepreneurs learn English, and providing effective mentoring and coaching.
The energetic Depelteau set her sights on earning the designation soon after joining the Innovation Lab at the end of 2010. Eligible centers must have a proven track record of serving foreign companies, on-site management that specializes in helping those companies entering the center’s region, and a full range of business services addressing the needs of the international firms.
After extensive work, ETSU’s Innovation Lab earned the recognition in January 2015.
“It’s a pretty unique program,” Depelteau says. There are more than 7,000 business incubators in the world, but only 31 have earned the designation including the 16 in this country. The closest programs to East Tennessee are at Georgia Tech in Atlanta and Innovation Depot in Birmingham.
“If we did not have the backing of the local power boards, we would not have the funding to offer this program,” Depelteau says, calling out the Northeast Tennessee Valley Regional Industrial Association and Alan Bridwell, its Executive Director. She also noted that ETSU works closely with the Global Business group at Baker Donelson.
So, what is the InBIA “Soft Landings” program? The association describes it as “a global network of centers that have been validated through a rigorous application and peer-review validation process (focused on ensuring) that foreign companies experience a ‘soft Landing’ when entering a new country.”
To earn the InBIA designation, Depelteau says at least 50 percent of a business incubator’s activities must be focused on technology.
The Innovation Lab’s first client that helped it earn the “Soft Landings” designation was FWG Special Springs Inc. Describing the German company as “high-end serving the nuclear industry,” Depelteau said it quickly grew to $1 million in sales in its first year here as she helped the company find space and recruit employees.
The second client was Karl Wetekam & Company, another German monofilament manufacturer that had set its sights on either Charleston, SC or a coastal location in Texas. At the last minute, it considered Northeast Tennessee and ultimately located in Dandridge. Another client is an affiliate of a company with ties to Germany and Korea while the newest – Hebmuller Aerospace – became a resident of the Innovation Lab in November.