Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center Opens in Warren

WARREN, Ohio – Joseph Balest says he’s always had great ideas.

Most of the time these ideas remained in the back of his head until he came across a new product in a store that resembled the very idea that he had hatched just few years earlier.

This time, though, Balest didn’t let his latest idea escape. In this case, it was a simple plastic cord protector for cell phones that he and his business partner, Jeff Keel, produced by using a Makerbot 3-D printer.

“We started making these for different devices,” Balest said Thursday. That led to another idea: forming an additive manufacturing service bureau that would allow customers to use 3-D printing for their own purposes, whether a prototype, a component or finished product.

Thus was born Alios 3D, a company among the first tenants in the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center, or TBEIC, downtown. The company leases space in the building, which opened its doors in April.

Alios 3D, FirstFuelCells.com, Yahni Power, Ashlawn Energy, and Sky Harvest Energy are the first five firms to set up shop in the new incubator, says Dave Nestic, executive in residence at the Tech Belt Energy center. Another company, Cleveland-based Intwine, has established a working relationship with TBEIC.

For the last 3½ years, the Tech Center has partnered with JumpStart — a Cleveland-based tech support network that helps fledgling and promising technology projects get off the ground.

“It’s through that network that we’ve developed a deal flow of companies to come in here over time,” Nestic said.

The incubator hosted an open house Thursday afternoon to show off its offices and some of the companies changing the business landscape of downtown Warren.

John Pogue, chairman of the TBEIC board of directors, says that Warren historically hasn’t been known as a hub for technology. That perception, he said, is changing: “It’s been a great success, and we anticipate more in the near future.”

About $3.5 million in public funding went into renovation and construction of the office space, Nestic noted, while additional private monies were invested in the project over five years.

TBEIC operates as a standard incubator, Nestic said, where young companies with just one or a handful of employees can use office equipment and rent space at reduced costs until they become self-sustaining.

Moreover, the incubator is attracting out-of-town companies here where they are likely to grow. “The CEO of Ashlawn moved her company from Johnstown, Pa., to here,” he said.

FirstFuelCells is another example of a company outside Warren that has designs on nurturing its business here.

Diane Sadowski, president, started the company in 2006 near Cleveland that and develops small fuel cells for the robots used in high schools and other mechanical devices. She decided to relocate, she said, because of the region’s quality work force and the technological prowess of the new incubator.

“Everybody is pretty talented down here,” she said. “You have welders, machine shops, mechanics – people who make things. The TBEIC group is very professional and has taken good care of me.”

Mayor Doug Franklin praised City Council for its willingness to work with his administration and provide about $250,000 toward various facets of the incubator. “We needed to invest in this project,” he said.

Dave Martin, founder and CEO of Intwine, said he’s working with the JumpStart network and TBEIC to develop and expand its energy management systems through the micro-grid.

The company produces hardware and software used to control energy use in residences and businesses. “We have mobile apps that can be used while you are away,” he said.

Incubators such as TBEIC are effective ways to help businesses grow and to boost the local economy, noted Rick Leonard, district director for U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13, Ohio. Moreover, they support fledgling companies at stages when they need the help most.

Companies that graduate from incubators have a “70% to 80% chance of surviving compared to one on your own,” he said. And, 86% of those companies are likely to stay in the region where they started, contributing to their respective local economies.

“We know these incubators work,” Leonard said.

Pictured: Dave Nestic, executive in residence at the Tech Belt Energy Innovation Incubator, and John Pogue, chairman of TBEIC’s board of directors.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.