Starting a new business is always tough — from finding clients to meeting expenses, there are numerous hurdles. But increasingly, entrepreneurs can rely on experienced mentors in Westchester to provide a helping hand. Accelerators and incubators, which give fledgling ventures a valuable boost by offering advice, education, and even, in some cases, workspace and seed money, are proliferating in Westchester.
Here’s the lowdown on four such programs:
Helping small businesses with big ideas that impact local families and businesses is the goal of Accel7, which has offices in New Rochelle and Rhinebeck. This nonprofit 501(c)(3) has only operated for roughly a year and a half but has already invested $50,000 in each of seven start-ups. The organization — which tends to focus on the food, beverage, and agriculture sectors, as well as on education, financial services, and risk-management companies — has a very targeted strategy.
“We help early-stage businesses and technology companies that are mainly what’s called pre-revenue and pre-product. We help them launch their first product, their first service, and their first strategy, and we help them get their first clients and investors,” explains managing director Danny Potocki. The strategy has lured businesses from as far away as Hawaii. “We’re happy we’re helping the counties in the region attract new companies, as well as helping our own residents,” Potocki says.
When Bridget Gibbons became Westchester County’s director of Economic Development in 2018, she asked numerous businesses about their needs. One wish kept coming up: a program that could help start-ups succeed. So, early last year, Gibbons helped launch Element 46, aimed at nurturing new enterprises. Each of the 12 businesses in the program’s first cohort (which ranged from a bakery to an e-commerce gift store) received free mentoring, training, and legal and accounting services, plus coworking space for four months.
“The businesses all improved. One was really struggling and now it is on the path to success,” Gibbons shares. The program, which is expanding to six months, will select a new cohort shortly.
“We don’t have a catchy name for it yet, but we will,” says Gibbons of the Westchester County Biosciences Accelerator, which launched in December 2019. To create the program, the county joined up with ELabNYC, a Manhattan-based accelerator for bioscience start-ups. Its offerings “involve mentorship, training, coaching, and roundtables for a very intensive six-month process,” Gibbons says.
For now, the six bioscience start-ups selected by Westchester will travel to New York City for most of the program, but by 2021, clients will receive all accelerator services in the county. “We’re hoping to grow the ecosystem in Westchester County in the biosciences field,” Gibbons says. “There are investors who are involved in the program, and they’ve invested in the start-ups in New York City. Now they’re seeing start-ups in Westchester County as viable, too.”
Based in Scarsdale, The Acceleration Project (TAP) helped more than 200 clients in 2019, says chief business development officer Nancy Rosenberg. The organization got its start in 2012, when CEO/cofounder Jane Veron sought to aid local businesses under siege by big-box stores and e-commerce. “We work with all different small businesses, primarily those we think are cornerstones to their local communities.
They could be anything from your local restaurant to occupational therapists or retail stores,” Rosenberg explains. TAP’s Strategic Advisory Program, its signature offering, matches clients with expert consultants who can advise on anything from cash flow to customer satisfaction. Over several sessions, they develop customized tools and an action plan to help businesses meet their goals.