Incubator Still Sheltering Entrepreneurs, Small Businesses

Two coworking buildings that opened in Sturgeon Bay during the past year were almost immediately filled by a variety of tenants, suggesting a lack of business-space availability in the local market.

Meanwhile, another coworking space has been successfully housing small entrepreneurs and businesses since the 1990s. The DCEDC’s Business Development Center, a small business incubator located in the Sturgeon Bay Industrial Park, has a different business model than a coworking space, even if the concept is essentially the same. 

“It’s for any business that needs to get on its feet and get going,” said Bailey Koepsel, director of accounting and operations for the Door County Economic Development Corporation (DCEDC). 

The center sprang from an incubator-feasibility report prepared for the DCEDC back in 1992. That Forth & Van Dyke report concluded that commercial and industrial space – “a key component in new-business starts,” the report said – was lacking, and an incubator facility could help to encourage and foster business development in Door County.

Today, the incubator houses tenants in both manufacturing/warehouse and office spaces. Of the 18 total available spaces, 16 are filled. 

“We have seven tenants in the warehouse portion, and in the office, we’re almost full as well,” Koepsel said. “We have nine tenants, and we can hold 11.”

A farmer who needs access to high-speed internet, an online-only yoga studio, a surveyor, a couple of nonprofit organizations and an international sales group are some of the entities inhabiting the office spaces. In the warehouse, the companies manufacture a variety of diverse products, including tooling, glassworks, fire bowls and wooden kitchen products.

The tenants share services and some equipment and receive professional business counseling and advice from the DCEDC staff. 

“Being here, they have access to all the resources to continue developing,” Koepsel said. “They’re getting more than just the space because we have entrepreneur classes, business-plan advice – any sort of assistance we’re able to give.”

Lower rental prices are not one of the perks, however. 

“We don’t want to compete with local places, so we do market rates,” Koepsel said. 

Annual leases provide greater flexibility for those who are ready to move on, but those leases are also renewable, and some of the tenants have been there for years.

“The idea, of course, is that they’re able to grow and move out and be large enough to sustain their own warehouse or studio,” Koepsel said.

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