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Support systems for new activities in rural areas

Part 3 - Various techniques
Advice on setting up a business centre
[Technical Factsheet 6]

How to use this guide & Table of Contents


If a "business centre" or "business incubator" type structure is to be set up, the following guidelines should be considered:

  • The location, surroundings and the quality of the building are of paramount importance to the viability of the centre.

  • The minimum size for a sheltered workplace to cover costs is normally assumed to be 3000m2 (the average size of Business and Innovation Centres is nearer 5000 m2).

  • The recommended duration of stay is normally 2-3 years and certainly no more than 5 years.

  • Contracts and leases should be as flexible as possible (easy in - easy out).

  • It is usual to recommend that rents be set at average market prices over the entire period of stay. Rents are often lower during the first years and then rise to more than market rates at the end to encourage firms to move on.

  • Some schemes work on the basis of a revolving fund with firms being offered the option to buy the property at the end of their stay. The resources generated are then ploughed back into providing space for other firms.

  • There needs to be a clear and simple way of monitoring and charging for the use of energy, etc.

  • The space within the centre should be organised in as flexible a way as possible. Easily removable wall or partition systems can allow for a range of spaces depending on needs. In some business centres, no more than 10% of total floor space is allocated to one firm.

  • However, there needs to be a clear division between office space, industrial activity and the space for common activities (canteen, exhibition rooms, etc.). Great care needs to be taken to separate out noisy activities.

  • The level of staffing depends on the range of common services provided. The minimum usually includes a common secretary and a centre manager.

  • Apart from services relating to the use of the building (cleaning, maintenance, security, etc.), the main common services are:

    • office services (reception, secretarial support, photocopying, etc.);
    • normal administrative and accountancy services (tax, legal, etc.);
    • training programmes and activities;
    • technical support (advice on commercial matters, technology, etc.);
    • support for promoting the businesses housed in the centre.

  • These services are normally charged at cost. Even so, they cannot usually break even without also serving firms outside the centre.

  • The main common facilities or spaces are generally: a car-park, a reception, meeting and conference rooms, canteen facilities, exhibition rooms, laboratories, shared workshops and equipment (especially computers).

  • Again, to cover costs and meet the area's needs, these facilities must also usually be offered to outside firms.

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