Here's some good news: there are twenty two business start ups benefiting from access to space, interns and support services in a loft-like space at 160 Varick Street in lower Manhattan. The City of New York, the Real Estate Division of Trinity Church, NYU and NYU Polytechnic Institute collaborated to open this new business incubator on July 1. "If successful, this venture will generate new jobs and new businesses and a new generation of entrepreneurial New Yorkers," says Director Bruce Niswander.
It's no secret that small businesses tend to have a high failure rate. The goal of an incubator is to produce successful businesses that will leave the program financially viable and independent. The hope is that these "graduate" companies will go on to create new jobs and commercialize new technologies while strengthening local, state and national economies. Graduates move on to lease commercial space within a given period of time, often two to three years, which in turn makes room for new companies in the incubator. Both the access to low cost space and an array of support services make a huge difference to an entrepreneur - their chance for success is increased because of their access to knowledge, capital and networks.
There are lots of people and politicians milling around, making positive noises about stimulating the new economy and supporting recovery from recession. But getting it done requires collaboration by "heavy lifters" who aren't daunted by bureaucracy and politics. In this case, Carl Weisbrod, President of the Real Estate Division of Trinity Church,(with real estate holdings that total approximately six million square feet over 28 sites) worked with Mayor Bloomberg's economic team, The NYC Economic Development Corporation, and with NYU Polytechnial Institute to open the new center in a Trinity property. NYU Poly operates the incubator.
A driving force in all of this is the incubator's Director, Bruce Niswander, a modern day Renaissance man who has degrees in law and business and a background in chemical engineering. He has the street cred of having started successful ventures as well as a history of teaching people how to launch commercially viable start-ups. His passion and practical "been there/ done that" stance communicate confidence and drive. He came to NYC from Columbus, Ohio, two years ago to lead another incubator in Brooklyn, the BEST Center for Entrepreneuring and Technology. He learned enough about how to get things done in New York and is now taking no prisoners as he garners the support for new businesses at 160 Varick Street.
"My job is to make sure that the companies we have here are 'investable'. They have a twenty four month plan that we work month-by-month to focus on tasks that must be done and on budgets and cash flow. Their plans address products, operations, marketing and selling, and staffing." This disciplined planning approach keeps people on track but is sometimes difficult for entrepreneurs who are often "creators and dreamers, not the sales people they need to be. Eighty five percent hate the sales process but need to focus on this to be successful. "
The center is housed on the top floor of 160 Varick and has offices around the edges, cubicles in the center and a number of informal seating areas to encourage interaction. There are shared facilities - copiers, internet access and conference rooms - and the refrigerator and coffee machine that are essential for getting people together as well as for fueling their efforts. In addition to being a great place to work and providing access to experts, a huge advantage of this center is that entrepreneurs can hire the hungry-for-experience students of New York University and NYU Polytechnic Institute. Students work in unpaid internships for college credit or are on the payroll of the incubator, not the start-ups. Some transition to full time jobs with their venture teams.
More than three hundred ventures applied for entry to the incubator. Products and services range from People Data Solutions, a talent exchange for people laid off from Wall Street to ChubbyBrain, a service that tracks start ups to provide an index of early-stage activities. Some of the startups are now working together: Clifton Charles, a custom, on-line shirt company, is collaborating with iConcept Media Group, a company that provides fashion branding expertise. There are a handful of energy companies, including Rentricity, that manufactures a reverse flow valve to create electricity from water flow with no carbon.
The twenty two who made this first round have access to an extraordinary network, including angel investors, venture capitals and other sources of funding for expansion. But Niswander believes that "the markets need to become more small business -friendly...and we need to use our money-muscle to make it happen."
Niswander and others are working on a global strategy to link incubators in key geographies.
"Mexico City, Tokyo, Shanghai, Mumbai, Abu Dhabi, Paris, and Dublin are all cities with incubators who know that we ultimately must work together - we need to become partners in new business creation. At the end of the day, everybody needs a job they can do to receive enough value to survive. Getting people excited about a job is the only thing and we will play a role in that beyond New York City."