ETSU's Innovation Laboratory receives international honor

Innovation Lab

ETSU’s Innovation Laboratory receives international honor

             JOHNSON CITY (Jan. 20, 2015) —  The National Business Incubation Association (NBIA) has awarded the NBIA Soft Landings International Incubator designation to the ETSU Innovation Laboratory.

            Through its Soft Landings program, NBIA recognizes business incubators that are especially capable of assisting foreign companies as they enter the incubator’s domestic market.

            According to Tom Strodtbeck, NBIA’s senior director of international programs, ETSU’s Innovation Lab was the sole recipient of the 2014 application round and was selected because of its array of business services for foreign firms and its demonstrated success at helping businesses enter the U.S. market. 

            Strodtbeck says, “The Soft Landings designation recognizes an incubator’s focus on welcoming nondomestic firms into its domestic market with translation services, assistance in cutting through governmental red tape, access to capital, domestic market research and other programs.”

            Although the Innovation Lab is the recipient of this international award, this initiative is a campus-wide and regional collaborative effort to establish a new economic paradigm for the area.

            Jeremy Ross, ETSU’s chief of staff for External Operations, says, “This designation is reflective of the hard work, talents and commitments of our faculty, staff, leadership within the Innovation Lab, the ETSU Research board of directors, the College of Business and Technology and numerous local organizations, such as the Northeast Tennessee Valley Regional Industrial Development Association (NETVRIDA) and the Washington County Economic Development Council.”

            ETSU offers a wealth of resources and services that meet the essential needs of foreign companies. Language and cultural assistance are available from the Department of Literature and Language, the Center for Academic Achievement and the Office of International Programs and Services.

            The College of Business and Technology, the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs and the Tennessee Small Business Development Center provide business assistance, while other programs are being developed as needed.

            ETSU President Dr. Brian Noland’s commitment to this program aligns with the university’s mission: “Through research, creative activity and public service, ETSU advances the cultural, intellectual and economic development of the region and the world. ETSU affirms the contributions of diverse people, cultures and thought to intellectual, social and economic development.”

            The ETSU Innovation Lab has a unique relationship with the NETVRIDA, a regional economic development organization, comprised of 11 power distributors and the Tennessee Valley Authority serving 10 counties in Northeast Tennessee and three counties in Southwest Virginia.

            The strategic partnership between ETSU, NETVRIDA and the economic development agencies of these counties serves as the foundation for recruiting international companies to the area and in providing market entry assistance. The Global Business Team of the law firm Baker Donelson provides inbound legal services such as corporate formation, acquisitions, trade compliance, real estate and economic development, immigration, intellectual property, international arbitration and dispute resolution, government contracts, federal public policy, labor and employment and construction.

            The Soft Landings Program is partnering with other law firms, local and international banks, insurance brokers, realtors and payroll companies to provide referral sources that match foreign clients’ needs.

            According to Dr. Audrey Depelteau, director of the ETSU Innovation Lab, “Our International Soft Landings Program is the collaborative partnership between ETSU and our extensive list of stakeholders. In the past year and a half, we have recruited and supported two international companies to the NETVRIDA region. FWG Special Springs’ first hire was an ETSU graduate. And, with over $1 million in sales, the company is actively looking to purchase a manufacturing facility nearby that will provide quality jobs for our community. Wetekam Monofilaments has already purchased a facility in Dandridge with plans to create 30 jobs in the spring.” 

            Soft Landings designations are effective for two years and recipients may reapply for continuing designation. There is no cap on the number of designations available, but Innovation Lab is one of only 26 business incubators worldwide that currently holds the designation.

            NBIA, which began the Soft Landings program in 2005, is the world’s leading organization advancing business incubation and entrepreneurship.

            For more information, visit To learn more about the ETSU Innovation Lab, visit or contact Depelteau at 423-439-8535.         

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