East Lansing incubator, Technology Innovation Center, helps startups

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By Samantha Watson and Emily Fesler
Ingham County Chronicle staff writers

Struggling to find work is common, but being turned down was nothing new to Justin Caine, founder of Good Fruit Video.

At the age of 10, doctors diagnosed him with a cancerous brain tumor that damaged his speech and motor skills. Years of medical work and therapy have helped Caine overcome most of his disabilities.

He graduated from Lansing Community College in 2007. “I was having a hard time finding a job out of college,” said Caine. He still has slurred speech and balance issues and believes those to be the reason he saw the door shut in his face after every interview.

Deadends inspired Caine to create a business of his own. He had heard about the Technology Innovation Center in East Lansing. Working in the incubator he met Kraig Westfall. Caine specialized in video editing at the time and Westfall in shooting and editing. The two merged to create Good Fruit Video; A video production company specializing in web-based videos.

Caine said that becoming a tenant at the center was a turning point in his career. He attributed his successful start to the incubator. “The whole idea of an incubator is to keep cost down,” he said. “The incubator helps people grow but also lights a fire.”

The incubator is made possible and governed by The Lansing SmartZone. Michigan has 15 SmartZones in locations by an academic institution and supported by local communities. The Lansing SmartZone provides support and resources to aid entrepreneurs in building a successful business. “SmartZone creates the budget and oversees the work of the incubators,” says Andy Schor, 68th District state representative and SmartZone board member.

View Michigan SmartZone Network in a larger map

Jeff Smith is the co-director of the New Economy Division for the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP). Smith works with the Technology Innovation Center fostering operations and management programs for the incubator. Jeff said that the incubators function is to provide affordable office space, resources and advising to people like Caine.

“The TIC facilitates tenants for a minimum of 6 months and a maximum of 3 years,” said Smith. “The incubator helps cover costs that start up companies would normally have to worry about,” he said.

Tenants of the TIC pay rent on per square foot basis that they occupy and the city helps to cover the cost of other resources useful to the tenants. The City

Of East Lansing secures the lease through Downtown Development Authority. The funding comes partly from the city of East Lansing and LEAP but backed mainly by Michigan Economic Development Corporation ) grant.

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