Technology Business Incubator Helps Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Start and Maintain Businesses

FLINT, Mich., Sept. 21, 2000 — During a stop in Michigan on his New Market Tour, President Clinton today addressed the growing efforts of both the public and private sectors to bridge the digital divide. Joining him on stage was Janice Hertz, director of the Accessible Technologies Group at Microsoft. The president specifically noted Microsoft’s support in helping to close the digital divide for people with disabilities by highlighting the Technology Business Incubator, a program to help entrepreneurs disadvantaged by income status and disability start and operate their own businesses.

Microsoft, in conjunction with Community Options, Inc., a national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the social and economic independence of Americans with disabilities, has helped to establish a first-of-its-kind business incubator to help entrepreneurs with disabilities. Scheduled to launch January 1, 2001, the Technology Business Incubator has multiple public- and private-sector supporters, including Microsoft, Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies, the New Jersey Technology Council Education Foundation, the New Jersey Community Loan Fund and the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners.

“Microsoft was an early supporter, donating cash and software to the New Jersey ‘Pass It On’ (Plan for Achieving Self-Support with Information Technology Opportunities Nationwide) program, which was the seed for the incubator,” said Michael Morris (michael.morris@comop.org), senior vice president of Community Options. “They realized early on that people with disabilities could be an asset in the workforce.”

The incubator will be located in Morristown, New Jersey, where it is expected to assist 200 individuals with disabilities onsite and online, and incubate up to 10 technology-related businesses run by entrepreneurs with disabilities within its first year. Once the center is open, core partners and supporters will conduct a statewide search for entrepreneurs with disabilities who have developed strong business concepts and solid plans. With leadership provided by the George Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies, an expert panel will select the first group of disadvantaged entrepreneurs to be incubated at the Morristown site.

Once selected, the incubator will assist the selected entrepreneurs for six months to three years. Progress will depend on the viability of each entrepreneur’s individual business plan. The facilities will include low-cost office space with state-of-the-art technology, peer support from the incubator core staff for problem solving, assistance with market and financial analysis as well as legal and accounting issues. Each entrepreneur will also be matched and assisted by an advanced second-year MBA student from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Loans and financial packaging services also will be made available to the selected entrepreneurs through the Disability Enterprise Program of the New Jersey Community Loan Fund.

“Microsoft’s assistance is twofold,” Morris explained. “Not only is the company providing products that will be used by our entrepreneurs to create Web sites, help with data information management and a variety of other business application needs, but it is also providing credibility and leadership to this startup. With Microsoft’s support, we can build partnerships with those in the public and private sectors that will help make this program into the true success it can be.”

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