Since opening more than a year ago, Ignite has been able to build community partnerships to help its clients grow their businesses.
Located at 57 E. Chestnut St., Ignite is a business incubator opened in June 2020 by Washington and Jefferson College. Depending on your membership level, coworking spaces offer a variety of amenities.
Jessica Garda was one of the first to use Ignite, especially in one of their makerspaces. Garda founded The Cheerful Balloon in 2020 to create balloon art for birthdays and events.
Next month, The Cheerful Balloon will open a brick-and-mortar store at 50 N. Main St. in Washington. Through Ignite, Garda was able to connect with the Washington Business District Authority to help her find a new home for her business.
“When they needed to step into a brick and mortar storefront, I was able to place them in a perfect location on the street and help them continue a thriving business. This symbiotic relationship is what Washington and Ignite are all about,” WBDA Main Street Manager Shana Brown said.
Like all of Ignite’s partners, its relationship with the WBDA stems from a convergence of interests.
While Brown’s priority is to fill vacant storefronts and revitalize the downtown Washington area, Ignite wants to support and support businesses so they can get into those storefronts.
“If they start thinking about filling some of the storefronts and have a real strategy on what’s on which neighborhoods … that could affect our thinking,” said Ignite director and W&J associate professor Max Miller.
“We have programmatic flexibility here and we can focus on selected business categories if needed. If we push food businesses forward, we certainly do what we can to help them develop food business plans.”
Ignite Manager Lauren LaGreca was recently appointed to the WBDA’s Board of Directors.
“We are an element in the revitalization and development of the ecosystem,” La Greca said.
Ignite is also working with Washington County’s Redevelopment Authority when helping entrepreneurs take their next steps.
Miller called RACW executive director Robert Griffin a “relentless advocate” for Ignite’s efforts.
The redevelopment authority worked closely with the Ignite team, the City of Washington, and WBDA to help connect businesses with spaces that fit their needs.
“It’s these partnerships that help drive the type of growth and improvements we all want to see in our business districts and communities,” Griffin said. “W&J has accelerated the pace considerably by establishing an Ignite business incubator in the city’s business district. This is a major investment that has already yielded great results, and the Redevelopment Authority is delighted to be a partner in supporting the development of small businesses in the community.”
Cheerful Balloon isn’t the only business making the leap from Ignite to brick-and-mortar stores. Jen Lucas was able to establish the Yang + Yin Health Sound Studio at 117 W. Pike St. in Canosburg.
Brian Coleman opens Better Performance Physical Therapy at 271 Shadow Oaks Lane in Waynesburg.
While the Ignite team and its partners help businesses build, Ignite is also focused on the next generation of entrepreneurs.
W&J students make the most of the space, Miller and LaGreca say, and Miller even teaches a class in one of the conference rooms.
Ignite also hopes to help high school students through a partnership with Real World Scholars, a nonprofit that helps teach kids business skills.
“Through our experiential learning programs, through real-world entrepreneurship and workforce preparation methods, students are collaborating and communicating to start and run real businesses. This builds real relationships with what’s happening in the world outside of school Connecting opens up so many opportunities,” said Christen Dunn, the organization’s special projects manager.
LaGreca said students in the program will be able to access Ignite to come up with business ideas and get feedback on those ideas.
“We are very focused on the next generation of entrepreneurs and support students who may have an entrepreneurial mindset to take unconventional paths,” LaGreca said.