Taking Care of Business

Story and photos by Bradford Sherman
South Centers/CFAES

Nestled in the rolling hills of southern Ohio, around an hour and a half drive from The Ohio State University Columbus campus, is a unique gathering place where business-minded people of the predominantly rural community can meet, learn, and even house their start-up.

Some staff members there call it “one of the state’s best-kept secrets.” That may indeed be the case for many parts of Ohio, but residents of Pike County and the surrounding area know the Endeavor Center well as a vital meeting hub, the go-to for all of their business questions, and an integral part of their healthy, vibrant community.

As a 27,000 square foot business incubator located on the campus of the OSU South Centers in Piketon, the Endeavor Center is home to a variety of new and emerging companies looking to gain a foothold in the marketplace. Its primary mission is to provide these businesses with the resources and expertise they need to grow in a rapid and sustainable way, and in turn, increase the economic vitality of the region.

“Our Endeavor Center melds business assistance resources and staff expertise to foster a climate of entrepreneurship to southern Ohio,” said Dr. Thomas Worley, OSU South Centers Director. “The business incubator’s very name, Endeavor,  is meant to convey a spirit of ‘whatever it takes’ approach toward making a venture successful.”

Built in 2005, the facility consists of a wide variety of professionally furnished office spaces with multiple classroom and conference spaces available to host meetings, workshops, and seminars. The center’s services, some free and others paid, are available to any professional organization for various business-related purposes.

“We provide resources for existing and start-up businesses to thrive, including office space, office equipment, and networking opportunities. These components are all important to help a community grow both educationally and financially,” added Endeavor Center Manager Ryan Mapes.

Mapes expanded by breaking down the assistance the Endeavor Center offers to clientele into four primary forms: 1) access to professional, flexible office space; 2) access to expert, free business counseling (SBDC); 3) access to advanced communications technology and professional office equipment; and 4) opportunities to network and learn from other successful small businesses.

Within the last five years, the Endeavor Center and its business partners, which includes the SBDC, have created more than 600 high-skill, high-wage jobs, adding more than $75 million of direct economic activity to the local community. 

The center’s small business development counselors have helped more than 80 businesses overcome obstacles to growth by supplying strategic and space resources required for expansion. This resulted in the graduation of more than a dozen partners to build their own facilities or expand into larger facilities.

One such partner is Innovative Solutions (InSolves). It was one of the center’s first tenants and an anchor business for many years that, during the height of its residency, occupied eight office spaces and three manufacturing bays. InSolves graduated from the center in 2018 by purchasing nearby real estate and moving its operations into its own 20,000 square foot facility along U.S. Highway 23 in Piketon.

“The program worked, we graduated from the Endeavor Center and moved into our place – that is the mission of the Endeavor Center,” said InSolves Vice President Steve Barbarits, whose company first chose the Endeavor Center partly due to its convenient location near its clientele as well as for the facilities and support offered by its staff.

“It made sense for us to be close by where we could on-board employees, and also, for the manufacturing space. We utilized three of those high bay manufacturing areas. That allowed our customers at the Piketon site to easily come over and look at work in progress, or discuss changes to a particular manufacturing project.”

Barbarits also praised the low overhead that allowed his company to stay lean and be competitive with other companies, and especially the convenience of having certified business counselors located on the premises.

“The small business services just being a couple of doors down the hall really helped anytime we needed advice or mentoring,” he added. “As a small business, you have to rely on people who understand what it is like to run a small business. All the folks from Tom Worley to Ryan Mapes, and every one of their staff, were willing to go above and beyond to help us.”

The Endeavor Center’s long and prosperous relationship with InSolves led to a current partner, Probatum Technologies, also taking up residence in the incubator. Probatum President Rick Warner was a former manager at InSolves who still does consulting work for the firm, but in 2009, he decided to rent space for his own technology company.

Since 1999, Warner’s Probatum Technologies has been part of the fight against the well-publicized prescription and non-prescription drug abuse epidemic plaguing southern Ohio by providing case management solutions to community corrections agencies.

As technology has evolved, so has the company. It has been moving away from the local machine-based PC program and is now developing a cloud-based, mobile app called Casano. It is a mobile phone application that takes the form of a game aimed at the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction.

“We deliver challenges to the person on a daily basis that address thinking patterns, behaviors, and circumstances that contribute to elevated risks or needs that contribute to the likelihood of them re-offending,” Warner explained.

“These come in the form of a quest. They start out in a dark cave and they end the quest over a period of months or years, in some cases, on a mountaintop. There is compelling gameplay that happens based on the completion of the challenges.”

Casano is currently being tested by around 100 people in a pilot program, with hopes of deploying commercially within the next year.

In addition to InSolves and Probatum, the list of the different types of businesses that have partnered with the Endeavor Center over the years has been wide-ranging. Those partners who have called it home included an orthodontist, woodworkers, manufacturers, financial consultants, insurance agents, and the Endeavor Center has housed unique activities such as laboratory testing, and soon, a fitness center.
“I think that just goes to show the flexibility our center has, in its ability to meet the small business needs of the community,” said Mapes. “The center also hosts training events and workshops on a wide variety of topics by partnering with other program areas at the South Centers and many community organizations.”

While its primary function is as a business incubator, many locals simply know the Endeavor Center as a place to meet and learn. The classroom and conference spaces are used constantly by area business entities, even those not housed inside the center.

It is because of this, the Endeavor Center always seems to be buzzing. With the bevy of people coming through the door every day, it takes a special person to make sure those guests have everything they need and everything goes off without a hitch. For the Endeavor Center, that person is Jennifer Dunn.

Dunn has become synonymous with the Endeavor Center, having filled her important role since beginning her career at South Centers in 2011. Her working title is Program Assistant, but it does not begin to describe all of the different roles she fills on a daily basis. 

She might be best known for handling the booking of all meeting rooms for the facilities, but also performs administrative duties for partners housed at the Endeavor Center and the South Centers business team, as well as coordinates meetings, events, catering services, deliveries, and more. Moreover, just as important as all of that – she is the first point of contact for anyone visiting in person or calling by phone. 

“It is the different people we get to serve here,” Dunn said, when asked about what she enjoys most about working at the Endeavor Center. “You get to meet someone new from the area, or traveling from afar. We have individuals who come from all over the United States and internationally.”

“You have the same core set of responsibilities including customer service, coordinating meetings, and taking care of logistics, but it is like a different job every day, in that there is always a different face.”

Like the Endeavor Center she serves, Dunn certainly carries a reputation for being professional and for top-notch organization. She believes in proper planning and being ready for anything.
“You have to have a Plan B if Plan A fails,” she explained. “When you deal with unpredictable things on a daily basis, you had better have a backup plan. If the electricity goes out, or if the first network for Wi-Fi goes down, you need a backup ready for those things.”

Employees like Dunn are an integral part of the center’s second mission, of operating as a true, successful small business – providing customers (our business partners housed in the facility) with top rate service while maintaining the facilities in a sustainable, profitable manner. The center’s knowledgeable and accommodating staff, who strive to provide businesses with all the resources needed to be successful, are aimed at this second mission.

“Our business counselors are all very committed to the communities we serve and place a high priority on helping clients achieve their dreams of operating a successful business and thereby strengthening the local community and economy,” added Worley.

Mapes also pointed out that, in addition to the small business development counselors, the Endeavor Center also provides businesses support through the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), Export Assistance Program, and Center for Cooperatives, which focuses on the cooperative business model. These associated programs are well connected in the business community and can act as a gateway to many statewide resources.

A full directory of Endeavor Center staff, including counselors who can help realize the dream of starting or growing a business, is available on the south Centers website at southcenters.osu.edu.

Room rental inquiries should be directed to Dunn by calling 740-289-1605 or emailing dunn.595@osu.edu. Those who are interested in renting a space inside the Endeavor Center, or becoming a virtual partner, should contact Mapes at 740-289-2071 ext. 231 or email mapes.281@osu.edu