About 30 small businesses are housed in facilities belonging to the Border Environmental Commerce Alliance, which can be found down a meandering road by the marina in Chula Vista.
Inside, about 100 entrepreneurs and employees are busy trying to make their ideas work.
Eighty percent of them speak a second language , 40 percent of whom are fluent in Spanish. Almost half of the staff are minorities or have a disability and 90 percent have low or middle incomes.
On top of that, women own 45 percent of the businesses.
“It makes us look just terrific, but we didn’t go after those statistics, which is the odd thing,” said Larry O’Donnell, executive director of BECA.
BECA Aims To
So far BECA’s only goal has been to nurture young businesses that create good jobs and help protect the environment while helping the economic development of the San Diego/Tijuana region.
The alliance was founded in 1995 with public and private money, including a $2 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The city of Chula Vista contracted Southwestern College to help run the incubator, but in 1997 separated from the school and in 1998 the agency was granted nonprofit status.
That’s when O’Donnell came into the picture and undertook his sixth incubator. Currently, BECA operates without any paid staff and O’Donnell donates his services. Incubator tenants and partners provide all operations and administrative duties.
The agency targets companies that can support or solve efforts to deal with environmental challenges and take advantage of business opportunities along the border.
Solid waste management, compliance with environmental regulations, natural resource conservation, air quality, water conservation, and transportation and energy conservation have been identified as areas that need attention in the border region by BECA.
All companies admitted into the program must provide a service or product to help clean or preserve the environment on both sides of the border. Other businesses are admitted if they provide a support service that is necessary for the growth and success of BECA’s companies.
Receive Office Benefits
Businesses receive below-market lease rates, training and conference areas, use of office machines, Internet access and other benefits. Participants also benefit from a border trade network that includes incubator programs in Mexico, partnerships between environmental regulatory bodies in the United States and Mexico, a transportation network, binational alliances and partners.
Ray Little, owner of tenant company The Kensington Group, described BECA as an executive suite that offers guidance, support and advice to developing companies.
“There’s a mentality that you don’t know everything. You might know your niche, but you know that you need help and guidance to take your company forward,” he said.
The Kensington Group has been a support tenant with BECA for the last 2 & #733; years and helps companies raise capital, make business plans, and work on strategic planning.
O’Donnell says that the incubator works differently than most. Companies are encouraged to work with and for one another on projects. As a result, 40 percent of the businesses collectively provide each other about $80,000 worth of services at a reduced rate or no cost, O’Donnell said.
“We expect them to sacrifice to be here,” he said.
Extra Support Creates
Having support companies in the program also helps to create business opportunities within the program. With that in mind, many of the support businesses provide services to help other companies export, manufacture, sell, and find markets across the border, he said.
As an example of “self-contained” activity, O’Donnell talked about ReWater Systems that had a mold for one of their products and Oscar Romo & Associates in the program was able to find a maquiladora that cost less.
Sometimes working together is a necessity for businesses in the program since O’Donnell tries to find large projects.
“It takes just as much time for me to get a million-dollar project than it does to get a $10 million project. So I’m going after the larger project.”
Since the projects are larger and require more services than any single company in the program can offer, it becomes a group project of sorts. Companies within the program are contracted to work on different aspects of the project. If there is a facet that cannot be provided by an in-house business, a company from the outside is brought in, he said.
O’Donnell also paired up with Sam Doctors, CEO for the Alameda Center for Environmental Technologies, and James Robbins, director of San Jose’s Environmental Business Cluster, to create the California Environmental Technology Consortium.
The organization combines the resources of the three incubators to promote the international commercialization of environmental technology. The CETC works with Asia, the Pacific Rim and Central and South American countries to realize the goal. The organization is responsible for helping to implement an environmental training, education and technology transfer between the United States and Mexico.
O’Donnell said CETC and other partnerships with agencies and businesses will help companies in BECA find opportunities both in the state and internationally.
In fact, a company that demolishes buildings and recycles the materials, found a market for their services in Alameda. Now, the company has opened a satellite office there.
While these kinds of tactics help spread opportunities to several companies at one time, O’Donnell also believes in growing a successful business even if it takes time.
Translation: He’s in it for the long haul.
Comparing the incubator to a nursery, he noted that the hardest part is growing a seedling from a seed.
However, if a seedling is quickly planted and left to fend for itself, it has less chance of surviving. Instead of doing that, the plant can be nurtured and left to grow so that it has a better chance of survival.
O’Donnell believes the same is true of businesses. “The value comes from getting a return,” he said.
Consequently, BECA is in the process of reducing the number of companies in the program so that it can keep nurturing the seedlings.
BECA has the largest environmental incubator in the state, he said. The incubator is also the largest in San Diego.
And he believes that there is a need for many more in the county and state. He said that there is a need for incubators that deal with international trade, biotech and the environment.