Courtesy of Hubert Williams (Imagezsofus)
For aspiring entrepreneurs in Westchester County, these programs and resources offer support and guidance along the way.
Here in Westchester, taking the leap into entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be a scary endeavor. Success stories abound all over the county from those who have transformed their ideas into viable businesses and discovered pathways to success.
For those who want to follow in other entrepreneurs’ footsteps, there are a host of area resources that are available to provide valuable guidance and support.
Deborah Novick, director of entrepreneurship and innovation for Westchester County’s Office of Economic Development explains that Launch1000, a fully-remote, self-paced program that is offered by the county, is a great way for locals to evaluate a concept for a business or nonprofit, and then turn it into a reality — and a revenue stream.
Launch1000 started during the pandemic at a time of economic turbulence, Novick says, when the county government stepped up to support residents by providing tools and assistance for startups and existing business owners to create roadmaps that could develop or grow their ventures. The interactive program allows participants to get live feedback from coaches and mentors. It also provides a platform to share experiences with others who have similar aspirations.
“We say this program is radically inclusive,” says Novick. “It doesn’t matter what education you have, how much money you have, what color you are — it is literally open enrollment for Westchester residents who have the time and the desire to start a business.”
More than 350 people have completed the program to date. They have launched a huge variety of startups that include brick-and-mortar shops, online products, service companies, nonprofits, support groups, and more.
Although Launch1000 does not provide direct funding, it will point participants toward possible grant opportunities and connect them with industry experts and potential lenders or funders. A crucial support system is formed throughout the entire program, where people can collaborate, form partnerships, and become referral sources for each other.
For Westchester resident Jessica Brewington, a product inventor with a soon-to-be-launched business, participating in the program was an invaluable experience. Her idea — to create upcycled, interlocking construction eco-bricks that are fireproof, weatherproof, bulletproof, and lightweight — needed a business plan.
“Honestly, this is the best thing that ever happened to me — I wish there were more idea accelerators around,” Brewington says of Launch1000. “It helps you de-risk your idea and gain confidence to talk to people in your market.”
Helping Entrepreneurs Scale Their Idea
Entrepreneurship as a path to economic independence and community vitality is the mission behind another resource in the county called The Acceleration Project (TAP). The female-founded, nonprofit business advisory firm provides tactical guidance to high-potential, small businesses, especially those owned by women and people of color.
Jane Veron, CEO and co-founder of TAP, says the 10-year-old organization is committed to providing customized support to small business owners, whether it be guidance on marketing, streamlining operations, improving cash flow and margins, determining personnel needs, or just increasing sales.
“We are particularly good with those who are ready to scale, once they have their business model; we are very good at helping them really catapult,” says Veron. “Our sweet spot is that we can help a business analyze their data, particularly around their financials — as that is one of the biggest stressors for business owners — really understanding how they are making money, what their margins look like, what are their ultimate goals.”
TAP is often introduced to these under-resourced businesses through various lenders, municipalities, and chambers of commerce and offers its professional consultancy services at below-market rates, having assisted 450 small businesses and “solopreneurs” to grow and thrive since its inception. Veron says that after the COVID crisis, many businesses are now looking to really ramp up, after years of trying to just preserve cash.
“We are looking to help home businesses and Main Street businesses,” she adds. “Small business ownership is such a pathway for economic independence and for the American dream — we are seeing more and more women and people of color; this is an important way to support families and communities and to create generational wealth.”