STERLING HEIGHTS — A former child care center in the heart of Macomb County’s defense and automotive belt is getting busier and busier as a business incubator.

The Macomb-OU INCubator at Velocity Center, a branch of Oakland University’s business incubator, is now working with 24 business accelerator clients, six of which are based at the center, 6633 18 Mile Road.

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“We provide comprehensive development support to startup businesses and entrepreneurs in the form of incubation and acceleration services,” said Joan Carleton, marketing and communications manager, who joined the incubator in November 2011. “We provide support to the Macomb County region mainly, but also to clients in Oakland County and Wayne County.”

Carleton said those incubator services consist mostly of low-rent office space (as low as $185 a month for an office or cubicle) and access to office equipment.

Acceleration services, she said, “have a very wide range,” and include business advisory boards tailored to the individual client from a field of more than 70 subject matter experts who have volunteered for the task.

The incubator has also added two recent services, an executive in residence program, and  a new defense program, led by Larry Herriman, assistant executive director and director of the Michigan DARPA Matching Fund Program.

DARPA is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a privatized defense tech skunk works created by the federal government in the wake of being blindsided by Soviet space superiority with the launch of Sputnik in 1957. DARPA-sponsored research is in part responsible for technical advances like unmanned vehicles, satellite communications, the Internet and more.

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The incubator won a competitive bid process to be a statewide consultant at boosting Michigan’s share of DARPA’s $3 billion a year in funding, getting a two-year, $766,000 grant.

The effort will consist of four initiatives — a baseline assessment of Michigan DARPA activity; DARPA education and training for Michigan small businesses and universities; sponsoring Michigan universities and businesses who compete in DARPA technology competitions; and a matching grant program of up to $50,000 for each company in Michigan getting a DARPA award.

Carleton said the center also sponsors dozens of events a year, including “lunch and launch” learning programs and “capital raise meetups” to help them seek funding. 

The incubator’s executive director, Julie Gustafson, said the center is “still pretty much bringing clients in,” but predicts that “in another year or two we’ll have some good graduate stories.”

Current clients include a wind turbine company that the accelerator assisted in getting a state Business Acceleration Fund investment, and an LED lighting company that needed help getting certified for the auto industry, an effort that culminated in a $4.3 million order and the creation of more than 200 jobs.

Oakland University established its first incubator in 2005. In 2008, Macomb County approached the university to start a satellite incubator in the county. It’s a separate incubator with its own Michigan SmartZone designation.

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