The Northern Kentucky ezone, part of the Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development Corp., has been helping local companies start and grow since 2001.

The ezone has aided more than 189 companies, and it has brought in more than $74 million in investments to Northern Kentucky. We spoke to Casey Barach, vice president of entrepreneurship at ezone, to find out more about this successful program.

Q: What kind of companies might benefit from ezone’s services?

A: We serve a niche of entrepreneurial companies. Most of the companies in our portfolio are equity-backed companies. I differentiate that from debt-backed companies. If someone wants to set up a company and needs help buying equipment, we don’t help with that. They need to go to a bank and get a traditional loan.

We do help equity-backed companies: the Venture Capital, Angel Networks, friends and family type financed companies. In our region, these tend to be technology-related companies. If you’re not clear on whether you belong with ezone, just give us a call. We’ll talk about it and point you in the right direction.

Q: What kind of services do you offer?

A: We assist companies in a format we call “ABC”: Assessment (what do they need?), Business planning (financial, legal, intellectual property, mentoring), and Capital (money to finance the business).

Q: How do these companies find office space?

A: We do have some office space available in our building. We can also help people who are working out of their homes, if they want to hold meetings and get mail at an office. They don’t have an office, but they can use the conference room, get mail here, and look like an established business without having all their meetings at restaurants — we’ve all done that.

Q: What is the importance of networking and building relationships for entrepreneurs?

A: We’re constantly hooking up new entrepreneurs with more experienced ones for advice. We tend to encourage people to attend events and meetings for the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association and the Circuit (an information technology association).

Mentoring is always important. We have, for example, lawyers to help with intellectual property issues, because that’s really hard to understand. We can call them, have lunch, and have the lawyers come over for a sort of one-on-one seminar with the company.

Q: How do companies that use entrepreneur support services like ezone fare compared to those that don’t?

A: Compared to 10 years ago, there is a lot of help out there for entrepreneurs, and for the most part, it’s all free. Go get it. Go get help through ezone and other Tristate programs. Why wouldn’t you? These are groups of experts that have been doing this for years.

I think the success ratio for new companies, which is really difficult to begin with, is higher for those who use entrepreneurial services. We cannot take a bad idea and make it good, but we can make sure your business model fits what investors want, and that your presentation hits all the high points. We can save a good idea, but not a bad idea.

Q: What do successful companies do correctly that unsuccessful ones do not?

A: When I see companies fail, it is usually because they are not focused enough on sales. I have seen some great ideas that had wonderful products, but the company never picked up the phone to ask people to buy the product. That’s the critical mistake I’ve seen so many times.

For more information on ezone, call (859) 292-8444 or visit www.madisone-zone.com.