2016-04-08 / Front Page

bGEN taking root downtown for aspiring new businesses

By SCOTT POWELL
Ledger Staff Writer

Empty pockets and big dreams is how Brian Ziegelheafer describes the new hub for business activity currently under renovation in downtown Gaffney.

The Gaffney resident was hired March 1 to serve as director for the new KNOW(2) economic venture with its own catchy name. bGEN (pronounced like the traditional word “be-gin”) is a nonprofit agency designed to support aspiring entrepreneurs in their efforts to turn business ideas into reality. Its slogan is “Business Generation for community transformation.”

Three businesses have already committed to locate in the bGEN facility on 301 N. Limestone Street in downtown Gaffney. The tenants include a gourmet dog treat business, an information technology company and another effort to reboot a longtime company under a new business model.

Renovations are under way to house the startup businesses located in the former American Red Cross building. A grand opening is slated for May.

Entrepreneurs will have access to office, conference room, shop and storage space as well as office equipment. Mentoring, peer coaching and networking opportunities will be provided.

“When you start your own business, you are normally on your own island,” Ziegelheafer said. “You drive the business and make a lot of the decisions on your own. One of the neat things about bGEN is it’s designed to foster a spirit of community and collaboration. We will have training sessions where they will present their business plan to the rest of the group. The group will be able to offer input on ways they have overcome obstacles and help each other solve problems.” bGEN has an open floor plan with large work tables that serve as a laboratory where the startup businesses can work on ideas. The middle area contains a meeting area where the entrepreneurs can participate in training sessions.

There is a private conference area and desks outfitted with cutting edge technology such as computers, Internet access and even 3-D printers.

The open floor plan is modeled after the office areas of Facebook and Google. KNOW(2) economic development task force chairman Roger Ferrell visited the technology giants during the 2-year planning stages for the bGEN project.

Talks are under way with three additional groups about the possibility of locating in bGEN, Ferrell said. It will be able to support 10 to 12 new businesses.

Ferrell said the startup businesses will typically remain in the North Limestone facility for up to two years before moving to their own locations.

“We put a lot into hope,” Ferrell said. “Our goal is to provide the resources so people can realize their dreams of starting a new business. We are hopeful this will help diversify and strengthen our economy by starting new businesses that will help provide opportunities for our students and jobs for our citizens.”

The Appalachian Regional Commission and Timken Foundation provided grants totaling $263,000 last fall to assist KNOW(2) and the City of Gaffney with developing bGEN.

There are already future expansion plans for the business project.

A second phase would involve renovating space for an Internet wish fulfillment center, a kitchen area and space for special events, Ziegelheafer said. A third phase would allow bGEN to house equipment for startup industries.

“We are actively pursuing grant opportunities so we can expand this facility,” Ziegelheafer said. “There is lots of potential here. We have big dreams and empty pockets.”

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