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Economy and Business

Exploradio: Inside the Accelerator
Akron offers entrepreneurs cheap rent, free advice, and a former factory in an effort to rebuild the city's industrial base
This story is part of a special series.

Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
A compact combined high-res PET and CT scanner is the premier product of FMI Medical Systems. The machines are being developed and built at the Akron Global Business Accelerator for a world market.
Courtesy of FMI Medical Systems
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For nearly three decades Akron’s Global Business Accelerator has nurtured new ventures through their most critical phases.

In this week’s Exploradio, WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair explores the creative act of building businesses.


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Incubator to Accelerator

CEO Mike LeHere has been with the Akron Global Business Accelerator since its inception in 1983.  Back then it was called the Business Incubator, a name he says some start-ups have outgrown.

“They don’t mind incubating when they’re small, but when they start to establish a market presence, accelerator sounds much better to them than incubator.”

The former Goodrich factory, a 9-story red-brick building with massive freight elevators, is an incubator, but it also serves as a safety net and a launch pad.

One company LeHere highlights on the Accelerator tour is Summit Data Communications, which is ready to leave the nest after six years of incubation.

Leaving the nest

Summit Data Communications makes industrial- and medical-grade wireless modules.  It was acquired this year by technology giant Laird Technologies, and Summit Data will soon be moving its 30-some employees to a new home in downtown Akron. 

But President Ron Seide says being surrounded by other entrepreneurs helped relieve some of the pressures of starting his business.  He says starting a company is an anxious experience and, "just being in the same building with people who are going through some of the same experiences  does give one a bit of reassurance and also there’s a sort of vibe here that only comes from having a lot of entrepreneurs all in one location.”

Right now, 54 ventures call the Akron Accelerator home.  Most are truly in the incubation stage; two thirds are surviving solely on investor revenue.  Mike LeHere has high hopes for one company left homeless by the economic crisis.

Made in Ohio

FMI Medical Systems President Bill McCroskey credits the Accelerator for keeping his business alive during the 2008 stock market crash.  He says, "there was no venture funding so we ran out of money literally and we used to joke about driving to work on fumes.”

McCroskey this year secured $20 million from Chinese venture capitalists, enough to push forward his plans to design and build diagnostic scanners for cardiac and cancer patients at the Akron Accelerator primarily for the Chinese market.

He proudly points to his prototype, being built one compentent in one of his leased labs, “This machine is a first of its type in the world, we’re building 10 systems in parallel right now and this is the first pre-production unit and we call it RD-1.”

McCroskey is building and designing his machines from the ground up, taking on industry giants like Siemens and GE with what he says will be the most compact combined high-res PET and CT scanners.

It’s this kind of risk taking LeHere and the Accelerator thrive on.

“We invested time and space in Bill’s company, but we are confident that as this company succeeds, Bill and his investors are going to make a substantial investment back in to Akron and the Northeast Ohio community.”

FMI expects to start making money within the next five years, but may graduate from the Accelerator to a new building in Akron’s medical corridor sometime before then.

From Ljubljana to Akron

It’s day one for another group at the Accelerator.  Majda Zigon is president of the science council of the National Institute of Chemistry in Ljubljana, Slovenia.  She's part of a delegation of Slovenian chemists inspecting their new Akron offices for the first time.  The state-sponsored polymer research collaborative drawn to Akron by the city's reputation in the field.

Zigon says the combination of the University of Akron's polymer research center, and the nearly 2 million fellow Slovenians living in Northeast Ohio makes Akron, "an obvious selection.”

The Accelerator provides cheap rent, about $5.00 a square foot for office space, free consultations, and introductions to the local network of polymer industries.   It also provides a heavy dose of the entrepreneurial spirit that’s been incubating innovation in Akron, from concept to product, for nearly 30 years.

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