A Liberty City business incubator is helping start-up businesses grow.

The Audrey M. Edmonson Small Business Development Hub, 4055 NW 17th Ave., provides seven small start-ups with free office space, desks, computers, printers, copiers, Internet, conference room, technical assistance, business workshops and a receptionist.
The hub, brain-child of Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson and community-activist Leroy Jones, got its start two years ago, but officially launched at the beginning of 2010.

“The whole concept is to provide a space to them so that they can grow and move out and be able to carry themselves,” said Jones. “Each tenant stays for a period of up to two years after a period of two 6-month try-out periods,” for a maximum of three years.

The hub, a space of about 1,000 square feet with a lobby, display area and a small conference room, was intended to house ten small businesses; but only seven businesses are there now because three offices need computers.

Edmonson provided $85,000 from her discretionary funds to start the program; Miami-Dade County followed up with a $200,000 grant. Neighbors and Neighbors Association (NANA), a non-profit founded by Jones, provided the building.

NANA is a 15-year old program that was established to help foster improved working relationships among small grocery stores. The program has grown to include several programs, including the popular Mom and Pop Small Grant Program, which provides financial and technical support to small businesses.

“Everything, including the workshops, is free,” said Anthony Scott, 43, owner of 2 Ruff Entertainment. “It’s the best experience I’ve had. I wish everyone in Liberty City had an experience like mine.”

Scott said the workshops the hub offered helped his party rental business to grow from renting chairs and tables to include music, pony rides, train rides and activities for children's parties.

Tammie Tarver, co-owner of B & A Cleaning Services, agreed with Scott. Her company provides a comprehensive list of services that include housekeeping as well as closet organization, carpet cleaning and party clean-ups.

“We are comfortable here,” said Tarver. “When we are not here, if someone calls and cannot get us on our cell phones, they can speak with a receptionist who is always here.”

Tarver had been operating the business out of her home, but could not get a county business license without an office. After moving to the hub, she got the license. In the hub’s more business-like atmosphere, she also grew her client roster.

In addition to Scott’s 2 Ruff Entertainment and Tarver’s B & A Cleaning Service, the business hub houses a transportation service specializing in student pick-up and drop-off; a telemarketing firm; an import/export company; a landscaping and janitorial service; and a non-profit organization serving ex-convicts.

Other business owners are anxious to get in, but their ability to do so depends on how much space is available.

The process to apply is simple. Applicants need only demonstrate that they have an existing business, fill out paperwork and go before a board for approval, said Clint Conliffe, special projects coordinator for Neighbors and Neighbors.

“We have a waiting list and therefore we will be opening another hub to fill this growing need,” Conliffe said.  “A new location is necessary since we cannot keep a long waiting list for this location because the tenants are expected to stay for up to three years.”