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Innovation Center earns international honor

May 11, 2006

KALAMAZOO--A program at the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center on Western Michigan University's Parkview Campus that gives incubator clients easy access to scientific supplies received the 2006 Incubator Innovation Award at the 20th International Conference on Business Incubation in St. Louis May 2.

The award received by SMIC was presented by the National Business Incubation Association "in honor of an innovation that benefits incubator client companies by either going beyond normal incubation services or introducing a creative way to implement an old idea."

The National Business Incubation Association is the world's leading organization advancing business incubation and entrepreneurship. Each year, its Incubation Awards honor the business incubators, client companies and graduates that exemplify the best of the industry.

SMIC is a life science incubator located in WMU's Business Technology and Research Park. Since June 2004, it has provided an on-site storeroom with a variety of refrigerated, frozen and room-temperature research supplies. The storeroom gives clients a convenient, low-cost alternative to maintaining their own inventories of standard scientific supplies, allowing them to fill their labs with the equipment and researchers they need to grow their firms.

"Having an on-site storage room means that clients will be less likely to halt research due to the unavailability of some scientific supply," says Sandra Cochrane, SMIC's chief operating officer. "By having critical supplies on site, client companies can weather the occasional missed delivery or avoid the cost of rush shipments of necessary products."

Business incubation programs like SMIC catalyze the process of starting and growing companies by providing entrepreneurs with the expertise, networks and tools they need to make their ventures successful. In 2001 alone, North American incubators assisted more than 35,000 startup companies that provided full-time employment for nearly 82,000 workers and generated revenue of more than $7 billion.

The on-site storeroom came to fruition a few years after the incubator opened in 2000, when SMIC struck up a deal with Sigma-Aldrich, an international life science product supplier that frequently worked with the incubator and its clients. Sigma-Aldrich discovered within a few months that the project wasn't as profitable as the firm would have liked.

But SMIC had negotiated a one-year guarantee with Sigma-Aldrich, which allowed time to work out a transition plan. In fact, it was the Sigma-Aldrich representative who managed the program that approached SMIC with a solution.

That solution was to turn over the storeroom's management to Single Source Procurement. The company, a start-up firm itself, is owned by a former procurement manager at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and had already worked with SMIC on other procurement projects.

Since taking over management of the storeroom, Single Source Procurement has expanded the program to include products from other vendors and hired a part-time storeroom manager who is on site each business day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to answer questions and assist with special orders. Outside of those hours, there generally is someone in Single Source Procurement's office who focuses more on helping clients attain goods not typically stocked in the storeroom, such as microscopes, sterilizers and other equipment.

Cochrane says nine of SMIC's 12 client companies regularly purchase supplies through the storeroom, as a matter of both convenience cost. Because Single Source Procurement has negotiated discounted prices with vendors, SMIC clients--and the incubator itself--can save money by shopping at the storeroom.

During the 2005 calendar year, SMIC and its clients saved $350,000 by purchasing scientific supplies through the storeroom. Individual savings ranged from 12 percent to 59 percent, depending on the item.

"The clients love it," Cochrane says. "They have the convenience of being able to get the supplies they need 24 hours a day, and they're able to save money. Single Source Procurement has the connections and relationships to know the types of discounts vendors can give, and that pays off."

For more information, contact Cochrane at scochrane@kazoosmic.com or (269) 372-4091 or contact Linda Knopp, communications manager for the National Business Incubation Association, at lknopp@nbia.org or (740) 593-4331.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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