Ignite has been in Washington since June, and already is attracting local entrepreneurs in need of physical space.
The business incubator, operated by Washington & Jefferson College at 57 E. Chestnut St., offers offices, conference rooms and creative space for entrepreneurs.
“We’re trying to help entrepreneurs at every stage of their business,” said Ignite Executive Director Max Miller. “We’re also helping existing businesses and people who were working out of their living rooms.”
One of those people getting out of her living room is North Franklin Township resident Jessica Garda. Her business, The Cheerful Balloon, was born out of the pandemic.
“I’m a former event planner, and events weren’t happening,” Garda said.
So Garda taught herself a new skill – balloon art – and was able to build a business offering balloon décor and custom gifts. It started with making balloon animals for her two daughters. Business started to take off when she shared some of her creations on social media.
“People started to reach out to see if they could hire me to make creations for their kids’ parties,” Garda said.
Then she began making balloon bears for residents of assisted living facilities who were unable to see their loved ones due to COVID-19.
Her budding business began to take over her home, which she says became “an absolute nightmare.”
“It has taken every square inch of the house,” Garda said.
Wanting to establish a separation between home and work, Garda was initially unsure where to go. She was not ready for a brick and mortar location, and most co-working spaces did not have space for her to be inflating balloons without disrupting others.
She found her solution at Ignite.
Garda is one of seven current Ignite members, according to Miller.
A monthly membership is $65, while one of eight fixed work stations costs $150 a month while an office runs $500 a month. There is also a daily rate of $15 for those without a membership. Members have 24/7 access to the building.
While the front of the building has traditional office spaces and conference rooms, the back is more of a warehouse, and there Garda has a 10-by-10 “cage,” where she can store her supplies and construct elaborate balloon displays.
“Having that as an option is not something you’re seeing anywhere else. Especially not so local. This place is five minutes away from where I live. Even if I could find something in Pittsburgh, I want to be here in my hometown, and in my market. I’m trying to keep most of my business local,” Garda said.
With a designated area for creative entrepreneurs, Garda gets dual use out of Ignite, as she can still make use of the other amenities, and she said it is a good place to meet with clients.
“Sometimes the coffee shop meetings just aren’t going to cut it. I can still have an office, show (clients) samples,” Garda said. “It checked all the boxes for me.”
Also making a space for herself at Ignite is Peters Township resident Debbie Magyar. She started Launch and Balance Consulting LLC in 2018.
Her business dovetails with the mission of Ignite, as Launch and Balance helps entrepreneurs develop business plans and digital marketing solutions.
“We primarily work with entrepreneurs called ‘micropreneurs,’ which are companies with nine or less employees,” Magyar said.
Magyar’s business has been an online-only operation since the beginning. She said Ignite’s proximity to W&J opens them up to offering internships to students in the fall.
“It’s really helped our business by being able to move our physical address to a more centralized location and to have a formalized business address,” Magyar said.
In addition to the co-working space, Ignite also offers a program called “Ideas to Enterprise Business Planning Competition.” Lauren LaGreca, Ignite’s manager, said the program is free, and provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs to get their businesses off the ground.
“It’s a four-week session, three hours per session,” LaGreca said. “Then at the end of the workshop series they have an opportunity to pitch their business to a panel of judges.”
The judges pick three people to receive grants, which are worth $5,000, $3,000 and $1,000.
Lars Lange participated in Ideas to Enterprise in 2018. He serves as a West Bethlehem Township supervisor, and is now a member at Ignite. Lange works as an attorney part time.
“It was good, because Max is a good instructor. There were other participants you could bounce ideas off of. It was a good exercise,” Lange said.
Those who have had a chance to experience Ignite see it as a valuable asset to Washington County.
“Having worked in other cities and being a part of other entrepreneurial ecosystems … I’ve seen firsthand how a business incubator, like Ignite, can literally ignite or spark interest in an entrepreneur that’s in the ideation stage and they just don’t know what to do with their idea or where to get started,” Magyar said.
While Garda sees Ignite as offering a way to gain a better work-life balance, she also thinks it will help businesses to stay and grow in Washington.
“To have that right in our backyard, it keeps the talent here in Washington, and it grows the talent in Washington,” Garda said. “I think this is going to take it to the next level., not take it elsewhere.”