The Accelerator Network, Westchester’s Diamond In The Rough For Small Businesses

The toughest part of the entrepreneurial process—even more so than the initial start-up phase—is growing the business and making it sustainable. You have to find the right connections. You have to hire more staff while sticking to your bottom line. Oh, and you’ll probably need some commercial space. To help local entrepreneurs with these challenges, the Westchester County Association (WCA) started the Accelerator Network as part of its BLUEPRINT for Westchester. 

A sort of “boot camp” for early-stage companies, the Accelerator Network offers companies access to commercial space, professional services, mentors, and seed financing. “The Accelerator program is an opportunity to help companies grow and flourish,” says Marissa Brett, executive director, Economic Development, Westchester County Association. White Plains-based software company PlanGuru LLC, the first business accepted into the program last year, is proof of just how helpful the Accelerator Network can be. PlanGuru increased its customer base by more than 50 percent, created a new board of directors, and is expected to launch new products this year as a result of the program. 

This past February, the program accepted six new Westchester companies: Lola Granola Bar, an organic granola-bar company; Mobile Health One, a digital healthcare company; Nuvita, an online employee wellness program; the accounting firm Sternbach & Rose, CPA, PC; W@tercooler, a co-working space; and Yonkers Brewing Co., a craft brewery, all of which hope to have similar success as PlanGuru. Mobile Health One was attracted to Accelerator’s “access to a strong network of healthcare-related contacts and resources like public relations and office space,” says the company’s CEO David Crane. “The WCA is committed to making the Accelerator work and the participating companies as successful as possible.”

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To qualify for the Accelerator, businesses must have a minimum of six months of revenue. “Somebody can’t just walk in with an idea,” says Brett. “They’re selling their product or service in some way, shape, or form.” Then, during the application process, the company must demonstrate that it’s ready for growth and plans to add jobs in Westchester. After a company is chosen, Brett and other WCA members map out which services it needs. Mobile Health One, for instance, will work with Accelerator’s real estate partners to find a commercial space. “We plan to sign a long-term lease, so I’m being selective about the location and amenities to make sure it fits our long-term growth plans and company culture,” says Crane. Not only do the real estate partners work with companies to find the best space, they also donate one year of free rent, and offer the second year at 50 percent of market rate. 

In addition to real estate, the WCA partnered with local companies in areas including law, accounting, marketing, and IT that have pledged 100 billable hours per year. Accelerator companies in need of legal counsel are guaranteed a minimum 20 hours of free service—which has been a boon for Ernie Molina of Lola Granola Bar. Working with law firm Cuddy & Feder LLP, an Accelerator partner, has been a big benefit for Lola Granola Bar, which  expects to grow by 170 percent this year. 

Companies are also paired with a mentor who has expertise in their specific industry, a feature Alan Antin, COO of Nuvita, has found especially helpful. “My mentor has helped with business introductions and overall management guidance,” he says. 

Even in the short time these companies have been in the program, they’re already starting to see results. “We have already set up meetings with new prospective clients in the Westchester area,” says Crane. “The Accelerator program can help make connections, but it is still up to us to turn those connections into meaningful outcomes.” 

Companies will spend two years as part of the Accelerator program, and make a pledge to remain in Westchester after they graduate. Ultimately, Brett Says, “It’s all about jobs and bringing companies here that are growing and flourishing.” 

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