Entrepreneurs’ Center answers exploding need for business support



As a key section of the remodeled Dayton Arcade readies to open to virtual visitors Thursday, one of the Arcade’s key tenants is looking back on an extraordinary year.

The Entrepreneurs’ Center moved from its longtime home of 714 E. Monument last year to the Arcade, in time to meet what turned out to be an exploding need — businesses hungry for support and guidance as the global pandemic sank its claws into the U.S.

Some Dayton-area companies are finding ways to thrive amidst the pandemic — keeping employees on their payroll and even expanding. The rebranded Entrepreneurs’ Center — once known as “TEC,” but now dropping the “The” or “T” from the name — is one of them.

Scott Koorndyk, president of the Entrepreneurs’ Center, called 2020 “an incredible year for us.”

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“People needed us,” he said.

The center moved to a new home in 2020, joined The Hub Powered by PNC Bank at the Arcade and found itself supporting more than 1,000 customers — which for the center is a significant metric.

“What I mean by that is, we engaged with them through a meaningful engagement,” Koorndyk said in an interview. “It’s not like they just showed up at an event. Rather, we engaged with them from a counseling or coaching perspective, that was part of our ESP program.”

In late 2019, the center received nearly $11 million in funding from the Ohio Third Frontier Commission to lead the Dayton area’s Entrepreneurial Services Provider (ESP) presence, an Ohio Third Frontier program providing funding for promising technology-based startups.

That engagement with about 1,000 customers is about 40% higher than the center had experienced ever before.

An incredible fact, from Koorndyk’s perspective: Not a single one of the Dayton-area’s technology companies failed in the past year.

“Not only are we not seeing any slow down,” he said. “We’re seeing very significant acceleration.”

The center is a non-profit 501c3, formed in 1988, physically becoming an operation in 2000 on Monument Avenue.

The center has come a long way since then.

“We’re about 10 times larger than we were in 2016,” Koorndyk said. “We will finish ’21 with about 22 to 24 employees. We have about 21 on the books right now; we’ve got a number of (job openings) that we’re going to be filling.”

The center had as few as three employees as recently as 2015.

Said Koorndyk: “It has been an incredible four- or five-year run.”

“Not only are we not seeing any slow down. We’re seeing very significant acceleration of the progress that we as a region are making,” he added.

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Sources of revenue for the center include grant programs from the government, as well as professional services for businesses and organizations (like the Air Force Research Laboratory) trying to commercialize new or longstanding technologies.

A third way to win revenue: memberships, rent, other payments.

Today, the center has about 90 “high-tech” companies in its technology portfolio, all of which Koorndyk believes are capable of good things, as well as 800 clients in its non-technical portfolio, again a number that represents “massive growth.”

“Back in the day, back in 2014, 2015, regionally we didn’t have that kind of progress,” the president said.

The center’s startups in 2020 will generate something like $60 million in aggregate revenue.

It’s not likely that a Dayton start-up will create the next Facebook or Google, Koorndyk cautioned. What happens in Dayton tends to be more tangible.

“Dayton entrepreneurs typically engage in businesses, they build business with some kind of core technology,” he said. “It’s not necessarily a dot com.”

The virtual grand opening for The Hub Powered by PNC Bank, one of the Dayton Arcade’s anchor tenants, is set for Thursday afternoon.

The 95,000-square-foot innovation hub is a joint venture between the University of Dayton and the Entrepreneurs’ Center and includes shared and private office spaces, meeting rooms, conference areas, learning labs and classrooms and pop-up retail spaces.

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