The Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON) business incubator on lower W. Broadway is growing.
CEO Marcus Owens, 36, who leads the grass-roots economic developer, said there are now 17 small businesses operating that range from one-to-several employees. And he’s expanding the space to meet growing demand.
This less than a year after NEON opened the incubator on the main commercial artery of the near North Side. Broadway is undergoing a slow, building-by-building commercial revival in the city neighborhood with the lowest incomes and highest unemployment.
Moreover, NEON was just awarded $50,000 by the U.S. Small Business Administration, one of 85 winners among 400 applicants to the SBA’s annual “Growth Accelerator Fund Competition” through its office of Investment and Innovation and other partners.
“This grant will allow NEON to help even more small businesses in north Minneapolis start, grow and succeed,” said Nancy Libersky, the SBA’s district director.
Owens, 36, a North Side native who worked a decade in corporate America, said he’s invigorated thanks to expanding and new businesses.
“I’m encouraged and see the possibilities and now we’re growing, adding staff to support the entrepreneurs and we’re getting prescriptive to serve community needs,” Owens said. NEON, charged with business growth along-and-around the W. Broadway corridor, works with nearby Appetite for Change, a business that operates a food-company incubator, Kindred Kitchen, as well as the successful Breaking Bread restaurant. Several eateries, such as WholeSoul, Lavender and Sage Eatery, and Hibachi Grill, including food trucks, have launched from the incubator.
“We’re really focusing on food businesses in this community,” Owens said. “We’re working with Appetite for Change to develop and grow them. We still have $7 million [annually] leaving the community for food, along the W. Broadway trade area from the Mississippi River to Robbinsdale. But when we had food trucks selling on W. Broadway, they did just as well as they did downtown.”
Low-cost business incubators with shared administrative services, conference rooms and technology, are critical to reducing the high rate of failure among fledgling businesses that often are overwhelmed by rent, first-time errors, slow revenue growth and no mentors. Owens, who served on NEON’s board before becoming executive director in 2015, graduated nearby North High, and is a savvy MBA who connects well with critical business and community partners invested in a strong North Side business community.