Starting a business as a woman over 50 with English as your second language is never an easy task. Trying to do that in the middle of a global pandemic sounds downright impossible. But Gabriela Baumatz, founder of Alchimista Spiked Ice Cream, is proof it can be done — as long as you have a good idea, the right resources, a willingness to do lots of hard work, and a supportive business community like the one here in Westchester.
Baumatz, an Argentinian entrepreneur who moved to the U.S. just five years ago, began tinkering with her grandmother’s ice cream recipes during the COVID lockdown, adding booze to make them fun and unique, and got rave reviews from friends and family. Today, Baumatz operates Alchimista Spiked Ice Cream from a commercial kitchen in Mamaroneck and has a full calendar, selling her concoctions through pop-ups, farmers’ markets, and event planners. She counts the support from the local community as one of the best assets of starting a business here.
“I think because so many businesses were closing during the pandemic that people were happy to do whatever they needed to support a new business opening,” Baumatz explains. “Even other businesspeople — some in the same industry as me — were so receptive to helping me as I went through this process.”
Joining the Business Council of Westchester (BCW) was one of her best moves, Baumatz says: “The networking opportunities have been so great.” Run by President and CEO Marsha Gordon, the 1,000-member BCW is one of many local organizations whose mission is to help foster business opportunities and growth. (See box on page 46 for more resources.) “We are proud of the robust resources we have available to local small businesses, from business development opportunities to networking to education and councils devoted to helping businesses thrive,” says Gordon. She describes Westchester as a “very warm, welcoming, and inclusive place to do business,” and believes “opportunities abound here for entrepreneurs who are willing to invest time and resources in their business ideas, create strategic alliances, and develop a network of contacts.”
At the county level, Director of Economic Development Bridget Gibbons oversees a department that is devoted to giving Westchesterites a chance to thrive in business. Its premier entrepreneurship initiative is Launch1000, an online business training and mentorship program that was developed during the quarantine portion of the pandemic. It helped 218 new businesses — everything from a moving company to an Italian pasta import business to a barber — launch during its first cohort in 2021. (The second cohort is currently underway, and will also include a Spanish-language program.)
“We provide our ‘Launchers’ with everything they need to take an idea and turn it into a business,” Gibbons explains. Launch1000 consists of seven phases, including things like putting together a business plan; conducting test marketing; mapping out inventory, labor and supply needs; and planning a financial model. “The program includes training, live workshops, networking experience, and a full support system of coaching and mentoring,” she adds.
For graduate David Brezler, owner of construction project management and data analytics firm Brezler, LLC, “one of the best parts about the Launch1000 program was the relationships I built with others in the program; I’ve remained close with a number of people from my cohort,” he explains. Brezler and a fellow Launcher are also managing a Mastermind collective for several Launch1000 graduates who work in professional services and want to stay in touch for ongoing support.
During Brezler’s first year of business, he also found help from the New York State Business Development Center, SCORE, and the local Procurement Technical Assistance Center, among others.
More mature businesses will also find a supportive community in Westchester, with resources like the county-sponsored technology accelerator Element 46 and organizations like The Acceleration Project (TAP), which offers guidance to underserved small businesses, particularly those owned by women and people of color.
TAP takes a unique approach: it uses expert pro-bono consultants who work directly with businesses on things like improving margins and cash flow, streamlining operations, and increasing sales. “We provide help with the business fundamentals so they can grow in a smart way and be profitable,” explains Tracy Jaffe, chief growth oﬃcer for TAP, which is based in Scarsdale. TAP works closely with area business groups, chambers of commerce, and municipalities — including partnerships with the cities of Yonkers, White Plains, and New Rochelle — to find ideal businesses that would benefit most from their services. The group, Jaffe explains, “has assisted more than 250 business owners in a deep, customized way over the last 10 years.”
It’s no wonder there are some 35,000 small businesses currently operating in Westchester. As Gibbons says, “We have a very sophisticated population of people here who are always open to new ideas, new products, and new services.”