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Gays Mills kitchen joins interactive TV network
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The Kickapoo Culinary Center has joined a statewide interactive television network, whose goal is to distribute educational programs to benefit start-up businesses.

The network is a distance learning project of the Wisconsin Business Incubator Association (WBIA) and was funded by a Forward Innovation Fund grant from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, now the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

The grant provided $180,000 for the purchase and installation of interactive television equipment in nine strategically located business incubator locations around the state. Gays Mills is one of five kitchen-equipped incubators in the network.

Start-up businesses created in incubators are nearly twice as likely to succeed in their first five years of operation, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. The WBIA network is designed to make proven incubation techniques available as widely, and affordably, as possible.

A digital video and audio equipment package, designed by LifeSize Communications, has been installed at each of the nine locations tied to a network control facility, called a “bridge,” at Gateway Technical College’s Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation in Sturtevant.

The LifeSize system allows up to 24 sites to be interlinked via digital broadband Internet connections. Programming can originate from any of the sites. The network can also be expanded to include other videoconferencing sites and educational institutions and private businesses equipped with compatible systems manufactured by Cisco Systems, Polycom and others. Point-to-point links are also possible.

The primary educational focus of the network is start-up business entrepreneurs, said Brad Niemcek, director of the Kickapoo Culinary Center. However, training for incubator managers is also part of the network’s mission. In addition, incubators are also able to rent access to the network to local businesses and organizations that are not associated with the kitchen.

The Gays Mills system has been successfully tested several times in recent weeks with pictures and sound fed to and originating from the boardroom, the community room and the kitchen of the Community Commerce Center.

Plans are underway for a collaboration by the WBIA and the University of Wisconsin Extension service for the delivery of special classes for food business entrepreneurs, said Niemcek. Most of the projects currently being developed involve programming delivered to Gays Mills from elsewhere. But Niemcek, who has a background in television production, is eager to explore the possibilities of Gays Mills becoming a producer of programming.