ODU, Norfolk program aims to aid entrepreneurs

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Print this page by Veronica Garabelli
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Marty Kaszubowski says he wants the program to help companies
grow to “where they need to be.” Photo by Mark Rhodes

The City of Norfolk and Old Dominion University have formed a partnership to help local entrepreneurs.

Earlier this year they began the Innovation Center – Norfolk. The downtown facility — located at 501B Boush St. — offers businesses work space and assistance.

ODU hopes the center will be one of many in Hampton Roads that will help entrepreneurs, with each location tailored to a locality’s needs, says Marty Kaszubowski, executive director of the university’s Center for Enterprise Innovation (CEI).

“If I’ve learned anything in my 30 years in Hampton Roads, [it] is you have to be relevant to each individual city or else you’re in trouble,” he says.

The Innovation Center is one of several resources that CEI offers new and existing businesses. Other programs include the Hampton Roads Veterans Business Outreach Center, the Women’s Business Center, the Technology Applications Center and GOV2COM, which helps government contractors diversify into commercial markets. Companies at the Innovation Center will have access to CEI’s programs.

Overall, the Innovation Center hopes to work with high growth potential companies that can boost the local economy, Kaszubowski says. The companies can range from startups in the early stages of development to more established businesses trying to tackle new markets.

The Innovation Center has been a useful resource for Rocket Science LLC, a mobile applications developer begun by ODU students. The company, which now is renting office space at the center, began operations about two years ago. Rocket Science initially operated out of the ODU’s Strome Entrepreneurial Center, which offers students free co-working space. The company founders had to find a new location once they graduated from the university.

Franck Tchouambou, Rocket Science’s co-founder and chief operating officer, says the Strome Entrepreneurial Center and the Innovation Center have helped the company generate business leads.

Christopher Shelton, the Innovation Center’s managing director, and Nancy Grden, executive director of the Strome Entrepreneurial Center, have been great mentors, he says. Shelton, who co-founded Cure Coffeehouse & Brasserie in Norfolk, is helping Rocket Science learn the ropes of the restaurant business so it can market an application it’s developing for restaurateurs.

So far, things are going well for Rocket Science, which has three full-time employees and five contractors. From June through August, the company generated $100,000 in revenue.  “We’ve been expanding very quickly,” Tchouambou says.

That type of growth is exactly what the Innovation Center is trying to promote. “What I really focus on is … creating a place, and more importantly, a program that helps companies go from where they are to where they need to be,” Kaszubowski says.

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