NEO for New Business Grows Ideas

By Jane Whitttington on June 30th, 2016 / Comments

As a prefix, neo means new. And as the name of a business incubator near Lansing’s Old Town district, NEO stands for The Center for New Enterprise Opportunity—a resource to assist entrepreneurs as they grow their new ideas.

Six years ago, Tom Stewart, NEO Center Managing Partner, began NEO with a business development curriculum offered to up-and-coming entrepreneurs. Although not originally intended as a shared space for start-ups, it soon became apparent that there was a need for a venue to accompany the curriculum. So, soon after forming NEO, Stewart and his colleagues began providing space for new businesses to use while their companies were maturing.

Stewart says, “We have been home to 32 companies, 30 of which are still in business. And these businesses have generated over $7 million in revenue and created 100 plus jobs in the community.”

The curriculum which Stewart and his collaborators developed for NEO is in its fourth iteration. It has evolved over time into what it is today based on feedback, new ideas and technologies, and research. The curriculum includes four entrepreneurial concepts:

  • Nine organizational competencies—KNOWLEDGE
  • Modular resources—PRACTICE
  • Six core questions—PROCESS
  • Strategic benchmarking—EXECUTION

Stewart says, “While we do offer office space in the building for new entrepreneurs, our primary focus is  education and advocacy. We believe that the curriculum we have developed is unique and workable as new companies develop.”

He continues, “We are a for-profit incubator; our clients pay to take part in the curriculum and also pay rent for their use of the building. NEO is governed by a board of six who are business, non-profit, academia and government professionals. We have cooperative relationships with the Lansing Chamber of Commerce, Michigan State University, and LEAP (Lansing Economic Development Partnership).”

Stewart’s background is in management consulting with the State, MSU and large local companies. Realizing there was a need in the area for consultants working with smaller and/or new businesses, eight years ago, he and his partners formed Common Wealth Enterprises to offer small companies funding in exchange for equity. They sensed that small companies were more comfortable working with other small companies like Common Wealth Enterprises.

After some initial disappointments, the group felt that in order for these small businesses to succeed, they needed more than simply funds. These businesses needed education and advocacy. The incubator model seemed to offer that, so a program was created.

Currently, there are 12 tenants in the building with 21 potential spaces. Stewart says that most of their tenants take up more than one space. Their tenancy in the building is limited to three years. Start-ups now using the building include media businesses, non-profits and tech companies. They are open to almost any kind of business—Stewart says, “If you want to start a business, we’re here to help you out.”

NEO is gearing up to expand and focus on offering their curriculum in other communities by coordinating with Chambers, economic development entities and universities.

Stewart says, “Our one-on-one training, proven track record in helping small businesses succeed and customized, practical curriculum makes NEO unique and offers a highly effective program.”

For more information on NEO, go to




Jane Whittington



About the Author

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Grand Rapids. A Michigan native and Michigan State University grad, she enjoys reading, travel, politics and volunteering.