BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Thinking about opening a business post-COVID can be daunting. But an incubator space at 10 Lackawanna Plaza gives new entrepreneurs a way to test the waters at little cost and with much-needed support in uncertain times.
The Montclair Innovation Lab, an extension of Montclair State University’s Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, opened its doors Monday, June 22, with a grand opening event.
The pandemic’s impact on Main Street has been catastrophic, with the number of active business owners in the U.S. plunging by 22 percent from February through April, said Andrew Mees, communications director at MSU.
But pivoting is one of the tenets of entrepreneurship, and Montclair State has created a space for founders to create, reinvent, and even test their concepts in the heart of a downtown center, said Carley Graham Garcia, executive director of the Feliciano Center.
“We will also be able to see how consumers behave post-COVID, and how entrepreneurs can get them to engage,” Garcia said.
Open to both the public and Montclair State students, the 1,200-square-foot incubator space will provide aspiring business founders with access to executive-level coaching, virtual workshops during the pandemic, and even a point-of-sale storefront to test their concepts, Garcia said.
The location is also iconic, she said, as it was once the home of cosmetics entrepreneur Bobbi Brown.
Another result of COVID has been people transitioning from employment at corporations to starting their own businesses.
“Montclair has a rich culture of doers, thinkers, and innovators,” said BID Executive Director Jason Gleason.
On Monday, the Lab offered a food tasting created by Montclair State students Diamonique Lundy and Kheyyon Parker from their culinary start-up SoLo’s Food, which finished as runner-up in the 2020 edition of MSU’s annual pitch competition, StartUp Montclair. Their concept is to deliver affordable organic food.
Montclair State alumna Jennifer Bladel also debuted her COVID-19 small business photography exhibit as part of Fresh Air Montclair art exhibitions that are showcased in storefronts throughout Montclair.
The winners of the StartUp Montclair 2020 competition are taking part in the Lab as well: biology majors Hassan Kashif and Zaki Tahir’s start-up, Dr. Floss, is a single-use, eco-friendly device that allows customers to floss all of their teeth simultaneously.
The Innovation Lab is a two-year pilot program that was expected to open prior to the COVID-19 lockdown. In recent months, it has been holding discussion sessions, “Montclair Mondays,” in which business owners throughout Montclair have been calling in and discussing, and supporting each other, as they reopen in the post-lockdown era. The group plans to continue meeting in Crane Park, located across the street from the Lab.
Business owners interested in the pop-up or looking for support should email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.