Christopher Braunschweig Newton Daily News, Iowa
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "GlassHouse" is a small business incubator which offers space, mentorship and networking opportunities for startups.
GlassHouse's storefront sign in downtown Newton has enough room for five more entrepreneurs to temporarily display the names of their businesses.
For most new business owners, it will be the very first time their products or services will be featured in a brick-and-mortar store. Miranda Caldwell, owner and manager of GlassHouse, said that's the intention of a business incubator, which offers space, mentorship and networking opportunities for startups.
"We're a small business incubator that focuses on being the stepping stone for small businesses to get a brick-and-mortar location in Newton," she said. "But we want to help them grow into their own spot as well. They're not here forever. We're just here to get them started."
GlassHouse officially opened its doors in July along the east side of the Newton town square, 102 First St. N. Currently, Caldwell operates her marketing company, The Miranda C, LLC, within GlassHouse, but she will also collaborate with tenants as a secondary employee of their companies.
The front lobby and four offices inside GlassHouse can be rented out, which Caldwell said is enough room to host five micro-retail spaces or office spaces. GlassHouse bypasses one of the biggest challenges new business owners face in securing and maintaining a storefront.
"Our goal is to help those small businesses who want to get started, kind of figure out how to do that and also test the market more safely," Caldwell said, adding there are risks to starting a new business. "Either they're buying a building or having to rent at pretty high costs for all the space that they have."
"And even then they might have to invest money into that building itself to renovate it or assign three- or five-year leases. That's a lot scarier and a lot more financial responsibility. It's a harder barrier to enter, so we just want to kind of knock that down."
Office space inside GlassHouse will operate as smaller stores, allowing downtown foot traffic to browse the new businesses and even purchase their products similar to a pop-up shop. A downstairs area cannot be used for retail, but Caldwell said it's a perfect spot for business owners to hold meetings.
Caldwell has served on the Newton Main Street board for more than a year. During that time, she took note of the difficulties new businesses face.
There's too much space. I don't have enough inventory. Rent can be expensive. I don't want to own a building. I want something short-term.
Perhaps Newton needs a business incubator, Caldwell suggested. These types of organizations dedicated to helping entrepreneurs are springing up in the micro-metropolitan areas of the country, Caldwell said. Originally, business incubators were fueled by investors but have since evolved.
"We do it with space and with them being in the Main Street district they get all the Main Street resources and then we work with the Chamber so that they get also discounted chamber prices," Caldwell said.
Other opportunities are available for entrepreneurs in Newton, too. Engage Coworking allows people to use thousands of square feet of workspace in Legacy Plaza, and have access to desks, a copier, a conference room, internet connections and other amenities.
Caldwell said GlassHouse isn't competing with Engage, but is, rather "the next step" for business owners. "This is leading into a lot more to help grow entrepreneurs and small businesses that want to enter Newton," Caldwell said, adding that even the name, GlassHouse, refers to a greenhouse and a place where things can grow. "...Our tagline is 'Grow with GlassHouse.' It's all about growing small businesses."
Erin Yeager, executive director of Newton Main Street, said the added benefit of GlassHouse is having Caldwell on staff. While they rent space for three to six months or even a year, tenants have Caldwell there during normal business hours to attend to the commercial side of their businesses.
"GlassHouse is going to give the opportunity for individuals that currently have a home-base business that would like to branch out but don't really have the resources or the strong funding to purchase a commercial building," Yeager said. "So here we give them an outlet of a place that you can rent."
It also allows shoppers a chance to peruse a diverse set of businesses.
"It's a little bit of a micro-space mall," Yeager said. "...Overall GlassHouse is a great way for young or old entrepreneurs that want to start something but just don't exactly want to have a big overhead of expense and a commercial storefront.
"It gives them time to grow to see if it's really something they want to do."
GlassHouse enters Newton at a time when its Main Street district is flourishing with new-to-downtown retailers like Esther & Co., Varieties, Farmhouse Creation and Crazy Redhead Quilting. Caldwell said these new storefronts are a sign of growth in the city.
"GlassHouse is here to keep encouraging that and not take away from it," she said. "We love seeing people are taking up space in the buildings. That's what we want to see not only from GlassHouse's perspective but as a Newtonian — I love seeing that there are new businesses that I can support locally."
To learn more about what GlassHouse can provide for new businesses, visit its website at www.glasshouseincubator.com.
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