Week of September 25, 2000
  Snapshot from the Field

First Commercial Incubator for
Women-Owned Companies Opens

Long an almost totally male-dominated domain, real estate in recent years has made marked improvements in its gender diversity. Now comes another development that further punctures the Good Ole Boy network: Ground Floor Ventures (GFV at www.groundfloorventures.com), the first commercial incubator for women-owned and -operated technology start-ups.

And Ground Floor Ventures isn't some pie-in-the-sky notion. The incubator, in fact, just opened its doors in Hoboken, N.J. Located in the Monroe Center for the Arts, Ground Floor Ventures' incubator space is wired, furnished and ready for occupancy. GFV's management team is already evaluating business plans to identify potential portfolio companies.

"We are a resource that has been lacking in the technology arena for women," says Ground Floor Ventures founder and CEO Shannah Whithaus. "Ground Floor Ventures will provide the expertise necessary to refine a company's vision, develop its business model and build its team, while moving it along the funding path."

Which Companies Qualify

To be admitted to GFV, Whithaus explains, companies must meet one of three criteria:

  • A woman "must have developed the original concept and founded the company based on that concept";
  • A woman must own 50 percent or more of the company's common stock;
  • A woman "must play a significant role in the management of the company, holding a meaningful equity stake, plus a top management role (e.g., CEO, CFO, CTO, etc.)."
Qualifying companies don't necessarily have to move into Ground Floor Ventures' space in the Monroe Arts Center. GFV has two separate programs: one for companies that set up shop inside the incubator and receive fully wired office space, and another for "affiliate companies" that occupy their own space.

Hands-On Assistance

In addition to its female-centric focus, two other features differentiate GFV from the typical incubator, according to Whithaus.

"We don't throw business plans in the garbage. We give feedback," she says. "If an idea is good, but not quite developed, we will return the plan with recommendations on how to get it where it needs to be."

GFV, Whithaus adds, also provides guidance in acquiring financial assistance. "There are New Jersey loan and grant programs available that have incredible terms that many entrepreneurs aren't aware of. GFV knows how to access these programs," she says.

Guidance on funding sources is only part of GFV's hands-on approach to assistance. In addition, GFV "provides a comprehensive program of introductions educational services, mentoring, networking opportunities and discounted vendor services. The incubator will help develop a detailed action plan for each portfolio company, which is designed to ramp up the company's business model in order to get it off the ground quickly," incubator officials explain.

GFV is accepting business plans "on an ongoing basis," including plans submitted over the enterprise's Web site, says Whithaus.

In addition to its flagship incubator in the Monroe Arts Center, GFV has allocated additional space in the facility that will be available to firms that graduate from the incubator but wish to retain their current location.


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