General Electric. Microsoft. CNN. All three corporate giants were founded in the midst of U.S. economic crises.

We don’t know yet which entrepreneurial ventures will emerge successful from the current recession, but Hamilton County Development Co. President David Main has a feeling this recession will mimic the past and create some large multinational corporations of its own.

While a future Microsoft may or may not be in the works in Greater Cincinnati, one thing is for certain: A company could get a lot closer to corporate greatness with the help of the HCDC.

For 27 years, business by business, the HCDC has helped improve Hamilton County. Under Main’s direction, the full-service economic development agency promotes the creation of jobs and the encouragement of business investment in the local community.

Main explains that economic development happens in three ways — attraction of outside firms, retaining and expanding existing businesses, and encouragement of entrepreneurship. Until recently, many overlooked entrepreneurship as an important element. For the HCDC, it’s crucial.

The company coaches businesses through its incubator program, the Hamilton County Business Center. The incubator is one of the main efforts of the HCDC and helps businesses establish themselves and become successful.

“I think on the entrepreneurial assistance front, the incubator’s been quite active as a connecting tool, a networking tool, with coaching and mentoring, and that’s really where we’ve been focusing our energies,” says Pat Longo, vice president and HCBC director.

Currently, 45 companies are involved in the incubator program. Since the center’s creation in 1989, 120 have graduated into the community. After receiving mentorship from the HCBC, the hope is that companies will become economic forces in the Tristate area.

Support services the incubator provides include mentoring sessions, one-on-one consultations and SoundingBoard, a coaching program that gives advice on business/strategic plans. These programs show businesses what they’re doing well, but also what they can do to improve. Longo calls the incubator a “bootstrapping organization” — it’s helping companies do more with less.

Even with coaching tools in place, a major remaining concern for fledgling companies is finding a space to operate from, which can be tedious and expensive. Luckily for companies in the incubation program, the HCBC owns space in its four-acre Norwood facility to lease to tenants at an affordable rate.

This was crucial for Carmen Krupar, owner of Cybervise Limited and a current HCBC tenant of about a year. Cybervise is a web consulting firm that works with businesses on their web sites.

“I was attracted to the ability to have a space to conduct business,” Krupar explains. “Previously, I had been traveling around everywhere for business meetings. It’s nice to be able to have a place to do business and sit down with clients.”

Since she started working with Longo and the HCBC, Krupar has noticed increased outside confidence in her company. “There is a certain amount of credibility being here and having a professional space,” she says. “People know it’s not some fly-by-night operation because we’re involved with the HCDC.”

While it can provide a good deal of help, the incubator aims to make suggestions to companies without trying to run them.

“Just like a coach in a sporting event, you don’t throw the baseball, you don’t hit it, you don’t shoot the basket. You’re on the sideline, hoping you prepared them well,” Longo says.

HCDC also runs the Horizon Certified Development Co. Horizon offers the Small Business Administration 504 program, which helps small businesses purchase, construct or renovate owner-occupied real estate and purchase equipment with a low down payment and fixed interest. Horizon also administers the Ohio 166 loan program on behalf of the Ohio Department of Development, which gives below-market, fixed-rate loans for the purchase of fixed assets such as real estate and equipment for manufacturing and distribution businesses.

Because banks can be hesitant to lend lately, Horizon is able to help small businesses locate the money they need. “[Banks] want to help their clients, but they also want to protect themselves, so they use us to mitigate their risk,” says Andrew Young, Horizon vice president and senior loan officer.

For both the incubator and loan programs, some type of extrinsic benefit must exist. Companies have to show they’re creating a certain amount of jobs, going into an economically distressed area, are a manufacturing company, or are owned by an ethnic minority or a woman.

Though the economy has been rough, the HCDC has been able to give sound advice for helping companies survive.

“There are still companies out there that are doing well or have strategically and then tactically realigned their business model and are taking advantage of the situation to their benefit. … and, hopefully, if it’s a matter of adding investment or creating jobs, others are going to benefit from it, as well,” Main says.

He suggests that companies keep a close eye on cash flow and not get hung up on receivables. Companies should consider what the returns will look like on any money spent. Ad placement, networking and social media are also important, Longo adds.

Howard Mandel is the owner of MobileTek Consulting and entered the incubation program in 2005. He saw a need to supply durable field equipment for emergency vehicles and started the company to fill the gap. As a seasoned business owner, he warns that entrepreneurship is not for everyone.

“This isn’t easy. If you’re looking for a job where 5 o’clock is quitting time, this isn’t it. You have to really want it. You might have to deal with some setbacks and uncertainty. It helps to have a niche, or something that not many people offer,” Mandel advises.

For those with an entrepreneur’s spirit, there’s no telling what successes might be born from the “Great Recession.” With the HCDC’s guidance, some will beat the odds, and they’ll be in good company in a city built on innovations.

“If you look at every five-year period, there is something that has grown out of Cincinnati that has been wonderful,” Longo says, “and we’re looking forward to who’s going to come out of the next five years.”