When it comes to business incubators, manufacturing-focused programs are a rarity. In fact, there is only a handful of manufacturing incubation programs in the country. And during her two years as President & CEO of the International Business Innovation Association, Kirstie Chadwick’s visit to the Lehigh Valley was her first time checking one out.
“The manufacturing sector in the United States is starting to grow again, in part due to rising labor costs overseas, the quality of goods produced, and outsourcing becoming financially unbeneficial,” said Chadwick. “Many business incubation programs today have makerspaces, but those are only early stepping stones to manufacturing. Our country could use more manufacturing incubators.”
Chadwick’s organization, known as InBIA for short, is a global network of incubators, accelerators and other entrepreneurial support organizations in a variety of industries. The global nonprofit organization serves a diverse group of entrepreneurship centers, program managers, directors, and policymakers with guidance, mentorship, and the development of sustainable entrepreneur support programs in every industry and demographic. Its goal is to enrich the entire ecosystem by providing industry resources, education, events, and global programming to help its members better serve the needs of their communities and regions.
“Advocacy is our key role,” explained Chadwick. “We look at trends and patterns and use research and data collection to inform us and our members on what areas need our support the most. So being here to learn about the manufacturing industry is very helpful to me since it’s such a niche industry as far as business incubators are concerned.”
With over 25 years of experience at technology companies, including executive roles at five venture-backed technology startups, and a role as co-founder and CEO of her own company, she admits she quickly learned that “business incubation isn’t all about tech, software companies, and venture capital. After all, the vast majority of startups aren’t funded through venture capital.”
“There is a diversity in entrepreneurship, which I love,” she explained. “Incubators are a blending of dynamics; superhubs and centers with multiple facets. They help entrepreneurs get from the ideation stage into the development and production stages, and connect them to resources in the community that they might not have had otherwise.”
Visits such as the one Chadwick did to the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center in Allentown earlier this month help to inform her about different aspects of incubation programs and thereby allows her to use actual case studies of programs she has visited in her advocacy work. “A lot of stakeholders don’t want to hear some things from their startups or program managers, so they need an organization like InBIA to say it for them on a larger scale.
During her visit to Bridgeworks, Chadwick and Program Manager Anthony Durante toured the facility where she visited many client spaces and met with the owners of Amorphic Tech Ltd., JH Plastics, and LightLab International Allentown LLC, each of which shared the story of their business.
She also received a tour of several other incubators around the region, including Jump Start Berks in Reading, TechVentures in Bethlehem, and TekRidge in Jessup. Chadwick was also the keynote speaker at Venture Idol, the annual pitch competition put on by Ben Franklin Technology Partners Northeast.