Elgin Technology Center on course with ‘115 by 2015’ goal

NOTE: This was first published in the Dec. 7 edition of the Daily Herald Business Ledger

While the suburban business climate remained fraught with uncertainty this past year, the Elgin Technology Center has continued to edge toward its goal of turning the city on the Fox River into a tech hub.
Since its formation in March 2011, the nonprofit venture has slowly inched toward its goal of creating 115 small tech companies in the city by 2015, according to ETC founder and mentor Lasse Ingebretsen. Based on the second floor of the historic Elgin Tower Building, the center is focused on bringing the area’s technology talent and companies together to develop an interactive relationship.
Since its launch, ETC has grown from about 80 to more than 250 members, Ingebretsen said. More than 25 small technology companies are also a part of the group.
“We are accomplishing our main objective, to attract more start up tech companies to downtown Elgin,” he said.
“We have seen more than 300 people drop by ETC in 2012,” he added. “By putting on more events in 2013 for programmers, developers, tech entrepreneurs and nonmembers,
 we should see a more vibrant tech community and more visitors next year.”
One of the key goals is to develop an IT “ecosystem” in the city, whereby members can use the ETC to find work and local businesses can
find the tech talent needed for short or long-term projects. Ingebretsen said that ecosystem is beginning to thrive.
“People are finding new jobs, projects, and business partners,” he said. “This summer, five of our tech members who started at ETC in the Elgin Tower Building began doing business together. They outgrew our facility and moved to a 7,000-plus square-foot facility in Elgin.
“That means we now have a few spaces available for new tech companies that want to move to downtown Elgin,” he added.
The remodeled second floor of the Tower Building holds 11 offices that can be rented by small tech companies. Rents are subsidized by the nonprofit Stickling Foundation and go for $150-175 a month. All ETC members have full, free access to a tech library, conference room, cafe and training facility. They can also attend sponsored events, as well as have opportunities to meet and network with other members.
“Ninety percent of the small tech companies that have passed through here so far reported a substantial increase in their revenues as a result of ETC’s networking as a support system,” Ingebretsen said. “Our tech members are doing more work for larger companies.
“I do remain very optimistic about attracting larger companies to Elgin within the next 3 to 5 years,” he added.
While support for the center from the city of Elgin and other local groups like the Downtown Neighborhood Association continues to be strong, funding the organization remains a challenge, he mentioned. While the Stickling Foundation and local companies like Pittsburgh Paint have provided help — and organizations like the Motorola Mobility Foundation have helped in the past — the center continues to look for partners that can help further its growth and development.  
The ETC membership recently elected a new board of directors and named Michael Copeland as executive director. One of Copeland’s roles will be finding new funding partners for the center, Ingebretsen said, and the new board members have extensive experience in nonprofit organizations.
“They are quite capable of taking ETC to the next level,” Ingebretsen said.
Copeland said he and the new board are hitting the ground running with new ideas and improvements. Additional user groups and events are in the offing, he said, and a new logo and improved website are in the works.
“With so many members, we want to institute a way to search their specific skills,” Copeland said. “For example, ETC may be contacted about a project needing a PHP developer, or an IOS developer. With a searchable database of members, we’ll be able to inform those members of these income-earning projects.”
He said one of the biggest take-aways of the recent board election meeting was the number of
ideas from members, which the board will prioritize and follow through with.
“Ideas are great but action is better,” Copeland said. “We’re helping to facilitate that action and collaboration to make the Elgin Technology Center an even better place.”
With Copeland taking on the reins of the organization, Ingebretsen will be stepping back a bit to focus on other areas where he can bring
value to the center, such as teaching classes and helping new technology startups.
“I’m a builder and innovator, and I’m used to handing off a project or an organization once it is up and running,” he said. “I’m quite comfortable passing control to the new team. Bringing ETC to the next level requires new skill sets, and the new board has extensive knowledge from larger nonprofit organizations that help secure ETC’s longevity.
“With everybody walking in the same direction, toward the same goal of ‘115 by 2015,’ we have gained momentum and created a good movement,” he said.

Batavia firm’s site makes your Facebook strategy pay off

NOTE: This first appeared in the Nov. 26 issue of the Daily Herald Business Ledger.

You know your business must be on Facebook. It’s what everyone is telling you.
But is your Facebook page adding anything to your bottom line?
Having a reason for being on social media has been the dilemma for businesses since social networking began. But one Batavia company says it has developed a tool that not only helps small businesses build a presence on Facebook, but also generate revenue from it.
Recipreo is an online business tool from MetaLOGIC Design, a five-year-old company that focuses on developing websites and Internet marketing for small-to medium sized businesses primarily in the Tri-Cities area. The company has built local sites for firms such as Avondale Custom Homes, Kramer Tree Specialists and Onpath Financial, as well as doing nonprofit sites such as Anderson Animal Shelter and Pride of the Fox.
Mike Czerwinski, MetaLOGIC’s director of sales and marketing, said their work with the small business owners helped them realize challenges businesses face in integrate social networking into their overall strategy.
“A lot of small businesses know they need to be on Facebook and on social media, so they create their Facebook page and then they just really don’t know how to market it,” Czerwinski said. “They don’t know how to monetize it, to generate sales or revenue through their Facebook page.
“Recipreo helps small businesses turn their social network into a revenue generating tool,” he added.
Recipreo basically provides a simple way for consumers to search out a business’ Facebook page, and a platform for businesses to entice consumers to like their Facebook page by providing special offers. The site has a search engine and database of more than 450,000 business Facebook pages throughout the United States, according to Matt Vittal, MetaLOGIC’s director of web development.
When a consumer comes to the Recipreo site, he types in a location and will get an alphabetic listing of business Facebook pages in that location. All locations are also pinpointed on a Google map.
Businesses that have signed up with Recipreo are highlighted, Czerwinski said, and can provide incentives for customers to use if they like that business’s Facebook page.
Those businesses have a page on Recipreo that highlight the offer. If the customer clicks on “like,” he receives a coupon that is not only printable, but also has the option to be shared among that person’s Facebook friends.
“The average Facebook user has 235 friends,” he said. “If you can share it with ten people, it gets exposure to up to 2,500 people that didn’t know about this company or this offer previously.”
The customer brings the coupon to the store to redeem, and that gives the business quantifiable results of its Facebook marketing strategy.
“They can say ‘Facebook brought me 10 clients and these coupons generated $700 worth of revenue,’” he said. “Now you can measure your return on investment by being able to track these offers that come back to your store.”
For the business owner, Recipreo provides a number of marketing tools they can use online and offline, Czerwinski and Vittal note. A coupon can be generated by filling out four basic fields, Czerwinski said. Once created, the coupon is not just posted to Recipreo, but also to the business’s Facebook timeline, making it available to customers who have already liked the page.
“You want to leverage (the Recipreo) group to get more likes, but you also want (Facebook customers) to come back in,” Vittal said. “Facebook likes are great but you want to drive revenue, so you don’t want to forget about the people who already like you because the best way to get them to engage with you is to offer these coupons.”
In addition to the coupon, Vittal said the marketing side also provide a number of tools that all the business to promote the offers in-store and through other channels, including a QR code creator that provides a way to tie walk-in customers to your Facebook page and offers.
“You can print and put a QR code in the store,” Czerwinski said. “People can scan the code in the store with their smartphone, click like on your Facebook page and redeem the coupon while they’re in the store.”
The focus for Recipreo was to create a marketing tool for small businesses that is easy to use, fast and provides results.
“We learned over time that business owners don’t have a lot of time to devote to this, so we really needed to leverage technology in order to achieve results quickly, keep the costs down and make it really easy,” Vittal said.
Recipreo launched in October with about 20 businesses primarily in the Tri-Cities area, and the focus now is to build its client base throughout the suburbs. Czerwinski said the goal is to add 50 new clients a month with the hopes of achieving 1,000 clients in a year.   
While a business can list their Facebook page on Recipreo at no cost (and the site has a tool to do just that), the cost for the premium page and marketing tools is $39.95 a month. Czerwinski notes they are currently offering a 60-day free trial for new clients.
Vittal said new features they’ll be adding coming in the next few months include custom tabs, as well as the ability to integrate Facebook followers into a business’ email address database. Another feature will allow a customer to send a request to a listed business without a Recipreo offer to join Recipreo. Vittal notes it helps the business see if there would be demand for joining Recipreo.
Czerwinski adds: “We’re also trying to turn the consumers into our sales force.”