Small businesses are the key to our economy and start-ups are one of the main factors in that small business economy. But so are those challenges where new businesses suddenly have to move beyond an idea’s initial success to the steps necessary to allow for its sustainability. Or the failure of so many such start-ups.
Those who work as business or entrepreneurial consultants, or study and attempt to manage the macro-elements behind a region’s economic specifics, all point to a surge in entrepreneurship and new willingness to tackle the risks involved in starting businesses eight years ago, when the greater economy tanked in the early years of the Great Recession. Jobs dried up; people took to their dreams to try and create their own work and incomes.
On a more local basis, entrepreneurial and small business consultant Laura Finestone of Accord says new efforts started spreading from the art-sparked city of Beacon to Hudson and more recently to Kingston.
“I work with businesses looking to get to the next level, although 65 percent of those I’d categorize as start-ups,” said the area native, who grew up on her family’s resort property, now gone, and shifted to business consulting from years in the human potential movement before getting her business degree in her 50s. “The people I work with are working with a goal of social responsibility, and while there has been a surge in the number of tech start-ups in Kingston, there’s also been a growth in the number of agricultural-related businesses in the Rondout Valley.”
Finestone noted the major challenges she helps businesses with: taking assessment of their business, including its plan; reiterating original vision and mission; ensuring there’s the proper structure and foundation for growth (or retractions); establishing the steps necessary to achieve strategic planning goals and get to a next level; and ensuring that those running such businesses can somehow balance a life while building their enterprise.
Major trends that Finestone saw among her clients, and in the regional entrepreneurial world in general, included a new push towards cooperative efforts, both in terms of ownership models and its effects on productivity as well as those economic niches needing new possible business start ups.
Jennifer Schwartz-Berky of Hone Strategic LLC, a long term planning consultant and current Ulster County legislator from Kingston, also sees a new push towards cooperative start ups happening, as much out of necessity as wish fulfillment. She recently injected the idea of the “gig economy,” a surging economics term for the growing numbers working various “gigs” or single jobs instead of regular single employment careers, to the county’s economic development committee, surprising many that such a thing existed.
Schwartz-Berky feels that the old forms of economic development, which would “throw money at big businesses for job creation or retention” has proved bankrupt, wasting resources that could be used for either start-ups, where more actual economic activity lies, or greater economies for existing small businesses in need of help. She points to Good Jobs First, the relatively-new but much-lauded national policy resource center for grassroots groups and public officials that promotes “corporate and government accountability in economic development and smart growth for working families,” while also noting how effective it would be, on a regional basis, to help local Airbnb efforts, create roving farm trucks to augment local agriculture, or strengthen face-to-face interaction between small business owners on a par with the roles that fraternal organizations once played in our larger communities, and local chambers of commerce struggle to replicate.
“I think a lot of people say, ‘Oh, if only we had some level of technological interface to connect these businesses we’d be fine,’” she notes. “But if you’re a sole entrepreneur, you simply can’t do everything. It helps to work with others and there’s no mechanism in place for that, really.”
Schwartz-Berky went on to note how new businesses are not only reaching for social responsibility and sustainability via a greater move towards cooperation, but “the lines between for and non-profit business is blurring… There’s more instability and insecurity, more people “making do,” than one would expect in this area. We have three times the number of nonprofits in the Hudson Valley than the national norm, representing nearly 24 percent of all our economic activity.”
Instead of doing straight consulting with start-ups or existing businesses or nonprofits in this area, Schwartz-Berky has been focusing on the larger picture, working to encourage a new infrastructure to deal with the new economy’s needs, including those of start-ups and small businesses that could gain from “shared services and greater flexibility.” But she is also urging those pushing new ideas to look into means for building that shareable fabric, those means for creating greater economies of scale on a regional basis in the Hudson Valley (she named HV Current as one example of this starting to happen).
When we contacted consultant Phil Rosenbloom of Tarn Consultants, he similarly noted other organizations already working to create the glue and cooperative support that Finestone and Schwartz-Berky referenced: HV Tech Meetup, a growing entity out of Kingston and Poughkeepsie that holds regular meetings and has done much to push the tech surge in Kingston; Digital Empire, which defines itself as “a creative digital agency located in the majestic Hudson Valley of New York State,” has “established a well-defined process to foster creativity to align with business objectives and increase your chances of marketing success.”
On a similar note is the Good Work Institute, founded by former Etsy Vice President Matt Stinchcomb to offer trainings on new business models for the Hudson Valley with an initial investment from his former company.
“There’s one truth: no one is going to do it for us,” Schwartz-Berky concluded, as if speaking for all in regards to the Hudson Valley’s new entrepreneurial, start-up and small business culture. “You have to self-organize.”
Especially, all added, given some of the business changes now on the horizon, including the possibility of a former pro-wrestling magnate heading the nation’s Small Business Administration.