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Crupi creates growth catalyst at biz incubator: Augesco business centre designed to foster small businesses, helping them help each other off the ground.

Thunder Bay -- After being involved in First Nations economic development for six years, Thunder Bay businessman Franco Crupi is nurturing a small cluster of northwestern entrepreneurs at his incubation centre.

Since the opening last year, 11 companies have moved into the space, tapping in to expertise and technology at Augesco, a facility that provides young firms with the help they need to grow during their start-up years. Under the auspice of Crupi Consulting, fibre-optics, graphics, public relations, consulting, land resource management, insurance and advertising consultants are able to brainstorm with seasoned business people, while establishing connections with aspiring entreprenuers.

The aim is to produce healthy firms that will strengthen the northwestern Ontario economy.

Crupi has noticed owners who are in the office weekly, trouble-shooting with staff members see their enterprises expand quicker.

In a public incubation centre it is difficult to be flexible, however, in a for-profit business Crupi can participate with new business owners discussing their needs and how the centre can provide a healthy environment for growth.

"If they need to be here for six months we don't put them down for a two year lease agreement," Crupi says.

The average tenant pays $1.50 per square foot, buying them access to the boardroom and office machines.

Firedog Public Relations & Marketing is a successful example of a business that made good use of office space from Augesco. Originally, it started off in the centre until owner Stephanie Ash created a larger market base pushing through Thunder Bay to the rest of northwestern Ontario.

Often entrepreneurs are not able to sink into the business pulse of the economy right away. Finding financial support can at times be challenging, Crupi says. However, through his business connections new owners can link up with angel investors who are always interested in potential opportunities.

"What we do is match potential businesses with people who are willing to invest."

Within the incubation facility there is a $60,000 boardroom equipped with state-of theart technology and mahogany furnishings. Scotia partially sponsored the room, knowing that in order to be a "successful part of the economy" entrepreneurs had to have space to create or close business deals, Crupi says.

"The skills are under-utilized (here in Thunder Bay)," Crupi says. And it is not because northwestern businesses do not have a public business face, he says. Rather, they do not market themselves enough and as a result companies from the outside will become successful proponents of northwestern projects.

"We could be doing our own work at home. Solutions for the North have to come from the North, because we live that reality."

Although he has been open for a year, Crupi is starting to see synergies happening between the tenants.

Synergy kicks in as tenants feed off each other to move a project forward.

Located in downtown Port Arthur on Red River Road, the office facility can accommodate another eight businesses with more room as the need arises.

www.crupi.biz/augesco.com

By KELLY LOUISEIZE

Northern Ontario Business
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Author:Louiseize, Kelly
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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