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VENTURA COUNTY REVIEW

Environmental Business Incubator Hatches 1st Fledgling Firm

August 20, 1996|LEO SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Adapt Consulting Inc., one of the original tenants of the year-old Thousand Oaks Environmental Business Cluster (TOEBC), is the first operation to hatch from the business incubator.

The consulting firm left TOEBC earlier this month to open its own office in downtown Ventura. The Van Nuys-based operation joined the business cluster last August in an initial step toward expanding into Ventura County.

Founded last summer, TOEBC is a public-private coalition of business consultants, government leaders and large companies such as GTE, Southern California Edison and AT&T.

It provides office space and management services to about a dozen budding businesses in the environmental technology field, with members sharing rent for an 11,000-square-foot office building on Lombard Street in Thousand Oaks.

Adapt Consulting assists large and small businesses in recycling efforts, efficient energy use plans, waste and pollution reduction and other environmentally conscious business practices.

Yvette Berke, owner and chief executive of Adapt Consulting, said her business serves about 60 regular clients, including biotechnology giant Amgen Inc. and the city of Thousand Oaks.

Berke said Ventura County's business environment spurred her interest in the area and the incubator provided the extra incentive to move to the county.

"Incubators as a whole have become a nearly guaranteed method for businesses to become successful. It's like an ongoing business fair," Berke said. "I saw Ventura County as a region I wanted to be in, but financially, to test those waters and spread myself so thin, I couldn't do it."

Adapt Consulting was joined at the cluster by tenants such as Green Suites International, which provides environmental products and services to the hotel industry, and Duralee Products, which makes landscape tree containers out of recycled plastic.

The business cluster, Berke said, provided her company greater visibility than it would have received on its own, and an opportunity to share contacts with neighboring environmental businesses.

Just as importantly, she said, TOEBC allowed her to share rent and office expenses.

"We needed some time for growth and expansion and we could not have necessitated that on our own," she said. "We could not have afforded the luxuries of a video conferencing center, which was a free service of the incubator. We didn't have to go out and spend $6,000 for our own copier. So we had extra capital to put toward growth and development."

Berke said her business had grown sufficiently to allow her to leave the comfort of the incubator. And she said the environmental industry looks promising for future growth in the county.

"I found that people are receptive to environmental businesses in Ventura County," she said, "whether it's the corporations inviting us in the door to talk to them or the city officials."

Karen Livesay, co-founder of TOEBC, said Adapt Consulting's relatively quick rise out of the cluster is a good measure of TOEBC's success.

"An incubator is going to look at its graduating tenants as a marker," she said. "We have created an environment in which it is safe for them to grow and that will get them ready to step out on their own."

Livesay said most operations stay in business clusters for about 18 months before they are ready to leave. The Thousand Oaks cluster, she said, will not allow any venture to remain longer than two years.

"If they have to stay longer," she said, "you've got a walking dead [business] that couldn't make it in the business world anyway."

TOEBC now will look to fill the spot vacated by Adapt Consulting, Livesay said.

"It has to be the correct fit," she said, "but you don't want to leave a vacancy for too long because [the incubator] operates on the rent of the tenants and they feed off each other."

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