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Hank Betke had his work cut out for him when he took the reins of the Red River Region Business Incubator from Fred Green last October. With nearly half a year under his belt, he says things are coming along quite well.
“Things are very exciting in the incubator,” Betke said. “In the last six months, we have filled all but one vacancy in our office, and we have three virtual clients. We have some pretty big projects on the drawing board.”
Because they’re still at the drawing-board phase, the director said he could not elaborate on what those “big projects” are just yet.
In addition to attracting tenants, the incubator’s revolving loan fund has already assisted two companies as they grow and add jobs to Northeast Texas. Taylor Mechanical & Piping Solutions LLC received $15,000 with plans to add two employees. Turf Workz Hydroseeding was awarded $25,000 and plans to add both full-time and seasonal, part-time help.
“When I took on the job, the heavy lifting, in terms of establishing the organization, had already been done,” Betke said. “Our real job is to be a working incubator creating jobs, and that’s what we’re doing.”
His two main goals for this year are to build community awareness of R3bi and set the incubator on a path toward being self-funding.
“Hank Betke is a compassionate leader and a visionary who will bring diversity and growth to the Red River Region Business Incubator,” said Steve Gilbert, executive director of the Paris Economic Development Corp. “Hank is a team player and is excited about how R3bi can participate and lead in the entrepreneur support ecosystem.”
The community awareness has proven a big challenge, Betke said. One thing that has helped is the Business of the Month program with East Texas Broadcasting, which was established to help address customer apathy and spotlight great customer service in Lamar County.
“It’s a smashing success,” he said. “It’s really catching on.”
Later this year, Beke plans to launch a “mobile incubator” that will provide a source of income but also be a resource for the region. Many communities in and around Lamar County can see the need for an incubator but don’t have the resources to commit to a full-time facility and staff, he said. R3bi’s mentors can act as ambassadors to help fill that gap.
“We’re a community resource,” Betke said.
The incubator’s rapid growth and success have attracted attention from quite a few corners recently.
Deputy Director Michael Greeley and Nancy Alvarez, 8(a) Business Development supervisor, recently came from the Small Business Association’s Fort Worth district office to visit R3bi. The meeting had three purposes:
Meet with R3bi staff to create new contacts regarding SBA loans and make sure they understood the various options.
Conduct an informal discussion with with interested bankers about the SBA’s newly revamped Small Loan Advantage 2.0 program.
Discuss the SBA’s 8(a) business development certification, a program is designed for disadvantaged small businesses who want to take part in government contracting opportunities.
A group setting up a new incubator near Oklahoma City recently came to meet with Betke and discuss the local program. They also spoke with clients to get an idea of the kind of businesses they may attract and measure what kind of success R3bi has had so far.
Betke has also met with officials from Rockwall interested in opening an incubator there.
The director describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur.” He has started and run several businesses in his career, including telecommunications and patent law. He has served as a partner in an FM radio station in Colorado and even worked in Europe for several years.
“My goal is to combine my experiences in ways that will promote, support and guide R3bi clients, staff, volunteers, and board to achieve our strategic goals while developing and increasing financial stability.” he said. “I’m prepared to make the commitment to the clients, board and staff to contribute the executive leadership and management needed to achieve these goals.”
He decided to retire to Paris and purchased a home here about nine years ago, but didn’t move until two years ago.
“I had semi-retired in Paris when I started volunteering at the incubator,” he said. “When Fred Green moved over to PEDC, I was a natural candidate.”