October 20, 2007 in Business

Center offers help for startups

By The Spokesman-Review

A new downtown Spokane small-business incubator offers cheap rent, included utilities and on-site parking to entrepreneurs looking to take their businesses out of the home and into an office.

The Spokane Entrepreneurial Center in the historic Lorraine Hotel building on First Avenue has 18 lease-free offices open for startup companies, said building owner Steve Salvatori. As the chief of a national company and recent transplant to Spokane, Salvatori wants to help fellow entrepreneurs, he said.

“We’ve just done everything to keep the rents down, and we’re keeping it totally transparent,” Salvatori said.

Local business experts say the incubator could be a boon for would-be businesspeople.

“I think it does fit a niche that’s not really well served,” said Larry Davis, an adjunct professor of management at Eastern Washington University.

The center’s announcement comes as technology-business incubator Sirti, located in the nearby University District, is at near-capacity.

Unlike Sirti, which offers lab and office space and a variety of business-assistance services, the center provides just physical amenities, such as cable and Wi-Fi Internet, a fully furnished conference room and some basement storage.

“I would like Sirti to consider us for overflow,” Salvatori said.

“We make referrals of non-technology companies all the time” to business-assistance resources such as Greater Spokane’s BIZStreet and the Small Business Development Center, said Sirti Executive Director Kim Zentz.

Salvatori is CEO of Pleasanton, Calif.-based Salvatori-Scott Inc., which represents about 85 manufacturers of health and beauty products to drug stores and supermarkets. He and his wife, Sami, moved from near Los Angeles to improve their quality of life, he said.

In May, Salvatori bought the roughly 10,000-square-foot structure, 308 W. First Ave., out of foreclosure for about $870,000, he said. After a few months without much success renting the property, he decided to found the incubator.

Offices rent for $250 to $350 a month, and no deposit is required. Salvatori said he already has a handful of tenants in the three-story building, including a one-man branch of Salvatori-Scott.

Signing a standard commercial lease poses an obstacle for startups, Salvatori said.

Building tenant Junk-N-Dump, a garbage-removal service started a few months ago by Dwayne Tawney, 26, and Michael Stephens, 23, is receiving a discounted rent for the winter months, which it expects to be slow, Tawney said. Salvatori also plans to give them advertising space on the building’s side.

“We would be out of our house” without the center, Tawney said. While Davis was skeptical at first, he said, Salvatori’s financials make sense and he’s got a “sound plan.”

“I have worked with enough startups here, small ones like that, that I’m convinced there’s plenty to fill it,” especially if he works with small-business coaching organizations such as AHANA, Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs and the Spokane Neighborhood Economic Development Alliance, Davis said.

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