Mar 15, 2014

Economic development program would match entrepreneurs with mentors

Excerpted from Janesville Gazette
By Jim Leute

Brian Rubash is different from many entrepreneurs.

He’s willing to accept advice.

Rubash, one of the newest tenants at the Janesville Innovation Center, is getting guidance from a team of four mentors associated with MERLIN Mentors, a Madison-based group of about 100 volunteers who use their skills, experience and enthusiasm to mentor emerging entrepreneurs.

“For me, it was the only option for mentorship,” said Rubash, who recently founded Tapzi. The mobile marketing company has developed an app that allows targeted messages sent to potential customers based on their proximity to a store, business or organization.

Tapzi and K4 Innovations, another new tenant at the innovation center, are already involved with the MERLIN program. A couple of the center’s other tenants also are considering the program.

MERLIN, however, could be just one piece of a mentorship program that economic development officials are trying to put together for entrepreneurs and fledgling companies in Rock County.

“We want to do whatever we can to help entrepreneurs in Rock County,” said Mike Mathews, the contracted operations manager of the center. “That will be driven by their needs.

“Some might work with MERLIN, some might work with the center’s board of directors, and some might do something else.”

That something else is yet to be determined.

Rock County 5.0 has formed a partnership with the Janesville Innovation Center, which opened last April and now has seven of its 13 offices and manufacturing bays leased to young companies.

The center is a 22,000-square-foot business incubator that serves small, early-stage firms.

Rock County 5.0 will pay to expand the consulting services of Mathews and his employer, Economic Growth Advisors, to any entrepreneurs or small businesses in Rock County.

The group’s involvement is in response to an increasing demand from entrepreneurial and small businesses, said James Otterstein, Rock County’s economic development manager.

“By expanding these consulting services, emerging entrepreneurial interests and existing small businesses will be able to leverage the synergies that JIC tenants are currently enjoying,” he said.

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