SiMT Incubator sees businesses flourishing

By Melissa Rollins, Editor,

For the past two years, the Gould Incubator at SiMT has been running at full capacity. Now, several occupants have outgrown the business start-up and Incubator Director Ashley Deaza couldn’t be happier.

One of the businesses that hatched and left the incubator was Recruiting Solutions.

Anna Johnston, Recruitng Solutions Branch Manager, said that the incubator and all the resources it offered really helped the business blossom.

“Throughout our time here in Florence, we have doubled the size of our team due to the growing success of our organization,” Johnston said. “We recently relocated our office to David McLeod Blvd due to our employee growth and the need for more space. Our time in the SiMT Incubator provided us with the foundation to build our business from scratch here in the Pee Dee. We were provided the ability to network with other start-up businesses in the area and met many great people.”

Deaza said that the nature of Recruiting Solutions made the Incubator an ideal place for it to start; it also benefited the incubator by bringing in more foot traffic to the location tucked on the back of the Florence-Darlington Technical College campus.

“They outgrew us and we miss having them here,” Deaza said. “Anytime you have a good business, they increase the traffic to our building. So you get all these people coming in here and they start asking questions; it is great marketing for us.”

A second business that has taken off while at the incubator is Locked Inn-A Live Escape Room.

“When the brother and sister team with Locked Inn first approached me, even I was skeptical because I had never heard of an escape room before,” Deaza said. “I had to do my research on that type of business and see if it was something that, first of all, would fit into this area, would people actually go to it, and, second, would it fit in the incubator and the types of businesses we have here. When I did the research, I found nothing but positive feedback from escape rooms all over the world. Even in tropical locations where you would assume people want to be outside, they are inside a room trying to get out of it; and they loved it.”

Deaza said that when doing her research she realized that aside from the initial set up costs, the escape room had very low operating expenses.

“I looked at the cost of operating it and it was practically nothing; they have very little overhead,” Deaza said. “I then looked at what people can benefit from it and it turned out to be something more than just having a good time. This can also be used for corporate training purposes. As soon as the word got out that companies can get their employees in there in a group activity and learn how to solve a problem together it became really big.”

Locked Inn owners Maureen Allen and Gavin Smith said that starting in the incubator allowed them to grow slowly, something that is often necessary when introducing a type of business many people have never heard of. Allen said that their new location will have twice the game space.

“When we started at the Incubator, it was just the two of us with our kids helping out,” Allen said. “Now, we have five additional part-time employees. We started with two rooms and now we are opening our new place with four rooms. We’ve spent a lot of time educating locals on what an escape room is, and it is finally becoming more of a recognizable type of business. People seem to be truly loving their experience with us.”

Smith said the support of the Deaza, along with the resources of the incubator, was invaluable to them.
“The incubator offers a great service for a start up business,” Gavin Smith said. “And Ashley has been so supportive of us and what we’re doing.”

Deaza said that going in to 2018, the Incubator will have to ramp back up to find those outstanding companies to bring in.

“Right now the Incubator is in a period of transition,” Deaza said. “It took a little while to get businesses in here. We got them here and we’ve maintained occupancy for about two years. Over the past six months or so we have had companies that are now successfully graduating. They are leaving us, they are growing in terms of employees, they need more space; they are ready to move on to bigger and better things.”

With several success stories already playing out, Deaza is excited to see what businesses come looking to open up shop at the Incubator next.

“We are on the lookout for new companies that either want to move to this area or maybe someone is already from this area and wants to start a business and be successful in it,” Deaza said. “We have all different types of spaces and all kinds of resources that are available for any type of business. We don’t have a one-size-fits-all program. Every company is unique and they all have unique needs and we try to meet those.”
Ashley Deaza can be reached at the Gould Incubator at 843-413-2755.

Author: Duane Childers

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