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Cecil County to open incubator for local entrepreneurs

Susan O'Neill, Economic Development Manager in the Cecil County Office of Economic Development.

Susan O’Neill, Economic Development Manager in the Cecil County Office of Economic Development. (Submitted photo)

After a 2015 feasibility study found that Cecil County could benefit from having a dedicated space for entrepreneurs, the county’s economic development office has formed an advisory committee and is moving forward with the project.

With the county’s proximity to Aberdeen Proving Grounds and the University of Delaware, economic development officials see potential for businesses from a range of industries.

“We’d like to focus on technology but it’s not going to be strictly technology,” said Susan O’Neill, economic development manager for Cecil County. The feasibility study identified potential in several sectors, including manufacturing; professional, scientific and technical services; education services; and transportation and logistics.

The study, which was done by Axcel Innovation, LLC in Virginia, identified a handful of challenges for the county, including the need to change its perception as a bedroom community to one that can support new businesses. The county also has to involve larger businesses in the area to be a resource for local entrepreneurs, the study said.

Axcel recommended three steps to build what it calls an “integrated Entrepreneurship Center.” First, is the creation of co-working space to let startups and entrepreneurs access a place with a range of resources on a flexible basis and at a low cost. Cecil College has donated some vacant space to start right away on that aspect of the project. The technology committee within the county’s economic development office is developing selection criteria for the space.

The second step is the incubator, and the third and final part is the development of tenant spaces. The idea is to move businesses through the phases as they grow, said O’Neill.

“The intention and goal is to get businesses to settle down in Cecil County when they outgrow the incubator,” she said. The National Business Incubator Association found that 84 percent of incubator graduates stay in their communities.

Axcel recommended that the program should be run as a 501(c)3 with a partner organization and oversight from a board.

The feasibility study was funded through TEDCO and through video lottery terminal funds. The advisory group working on the project is made up of volunteers and economic development office staff, said O’Neill. The study also identified Harford Community College, Union Hospital and the Cecil County Chamber of Commerce as potential partners.

The county doesn’t have a set timeline for the center, but over the next six to 18 months it plans to have 501c(3) status, a complete board, an incubator manager and partner organizations. Officials also plan to finish the co-working space and develop the incubator space, O’Neill said.

Property at the Cecil County School of Technology in Elkton also might be used for the project, she said.