Dow Jones Spelman College Entrepreneurial Center. Member businesses are also schooled in the art of financing from sources such as the Small Business Administration, private investors and joint-venture partnerships.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle the FCBI clears for a technology start-up is the need for a sound infrastructure with which to develop its product or service. In addition to strategic planning and management assistance, the FCBI offers low-cost office space fully configured with copy and facsimile machines, computer workstations, a high-speed data-communication system, conference rooms and clerical support. Volunteer professionals from the Atlanta community conduct in-house training seminars on the use of software and equipment.

Once admitted, FCBI member businesses are given three years to "graduate" from the incubator and become self-sustaining in the marketplace. To graduate, incubated businesses must generate $2 million in gross annual revenue, employ 10 or more full-time employees on site and require at least 1,200 square-feet of space for operations. Allen said businesses that fall short of these goals aren't suddenly on their own, as businesses that successfully transition out of the incubator are required, in turn, to help incubate new companies by serving as mentors.

"One of the great advantages of being a part of an incubator is you create a family of small businesses that learn from each other," Allen said. "We've found that, in many instances, companies that graduate from incubator programs are probably the most important component in stimulating the growth of new business."

Untangling the Web

Practicing what it preaches, the FCBI recently revamped its static Web site into a fully interactive, multimedia site. Employing the talents of one of its member businesses, the FCBI has expanded its site to allow interested businesses to apply for incubator membership online or submit requests for additional information.

"The Internet plays a significant role in advancing the growth of the companies we have housed in the incubator," Allen said. "We certainly want our own Web site to play a role in that."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Additional information is available by contacting Greg Allen, CEO/manager of the Fulton County Business Incubator, at 404/559-9466. Tom Byerly is an Elk Grove, Calif.-based writer. E-mail