There is no shortage of brilliant business minds in the Hudson Valley. From a sustainable leader who wants to make Dutchess County greener to the creative team behind a streaming video app focused on locals and their stories, the innovative entrepreneurs you’ll meet on these pages are thinking well outside the box—and bringing lots of excitement (and investment) to our region.
Founded by husband-and-wife team Henry Gage Jr. and Sally Warren, PhD, Build Green Now was inspired by increasing consumer demand for the construction industry to offer sustainable, low VOC (volatile organic compounds) building materials.
Gage Jr., a business analyst, and Warren, a naturopath, bounced around from California to Jersey City to Kingston, where they ultimately settled in 2019. How did they make the jump into hemp? Gage Jr. was researching the ins and outs of building affordable housing—and came across others using hemp as an industrial material known as hempcrete. The couple quickly learned about the health and environmental benefits of hemp and wanted to be part of the movement toward green solutions.
Hempcrete is made from the woody core of the hemp plant (the variety that contains insignificant amounts of THC) and a lime binder. Unlike concrete, it is vapor permeable (which protects walls against moisture, rot, and mold) and non-loadbearing, meaning it is used mainly as insulation. Hempcrete is sustainable and plant-based, so if hemp was grown in the Hudson Valley, farmers could sequester the carbon dioxide and store it. The biggest plus: Hemp can be grown and harvested in just three to four months. While hempcrete is widely available in Europe, it’s an untapped market in the U.S. “Currently, we have to order hemp from France,” says Gage Jr., “But part of our mission is to build the hemp industry here in Ulster County.” The first step? Constructing a house—to show that it can be done and to encourage legislators to invest in a local hemp processing facility.
In 2020, Gage Jr. and Warren renovated a 19th-century home using hempcrete for insulation and wall finishing. “This is the first ’hemp house’ in Ulster County,” says Gage Jr. “We rebuilt the home to show an alternative way of retrofitting existing buildings with hempcrete.” Hemp House 1, as it’s called, is their home and office, and serves as a training facility to teach people about installation and design. They also offer workshops for building with hempcrete and creating other hemp-based products. Build Green Now plans to retrofit two more affordable homes and St. Mark’s Church in Kingston.
We are focused on creating a plan that will lead to New York State’s successful launch of an industrial hemp processing facility.
Gage Jr. is president of the U.S. Hemp Building Association and a member of the New York Hemp Fiber Roundtable. He authored an industrial hemp roadmap and shared it with agriculture commissioners across the East Coast. Build Green Now is also lobbying for $20 million to jumpstart market activity in the industry. “We are focused on creating a plan that will lead to New York State’s successful launch of an industrial hemp processing facility.” Build Green Now wants to help farmers grow industrial hemp to service the processing center and foster the birth and production of local hemp bioplastics, hemp paper mills and fabric mills, and hemp grain for protein. “The Hudson Valley is within 18 months of a green revolution,” says Gage Jr., “that will offer opportunities for local farmers to grow material for healthy housing and provide fiber for clothing, paper, and so much more.”
Amelia Legare took a long and winding path before she opened The O Zone Sustainability Center on Greig Farm in her hometown of Red Hook in February 2020. Legare graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh with a degree in nursing but she decided conventional healthcare wasn’t for her. “I was hesitant about jumping into a hospital environment and knew I had more exploring to do,” she says. “So for the next five years, I worked as a gardener and traveled.”
Legare participated in WOOFing (worldwide opportunities for organic farming). “The experiences all revolved around alternative, sustainable practices such as composting, permaculture, waste reduction and low-impact living, and I loved [it so much that] I brought them all home with me,” she says.
Her first business venture in Red Hook was Avant-Gardens, a horticulture design business—but there was something missing. “I really wanted to work with my community. I didn’t want to work with plants solo, I wanted to work with people and make a difference,” says Legare. So, in 2018, she accepted a position as garden educator at Red Hook’s Mill Road Elementary School, where she “married my healthcare background with the knowledge I gained through farming experiences.” The role involved teaching students about gardening, growing their own food, recycling, and composting.
The hands-on program inspired Legare to open The O Zone. “It provides community members with the opportunity to learn about their options as well as engage in sustainability practices,” she says. At the shop, Legare offers a bulk refill program, plastic-free packaging alternatives for household and personal care products, free recycling, a wide array of workshops to help people reduce their carbon footprint, and a community compost CSA.
Our mission is to try to take care of and heal our planet and to mitigate further climate change.
“At The O Zone, our mission is to try to take care of and heal our planet and to mitigate further climate change. We’re trying to incentivize and make it easier for all our community members to take part in environmental action,” says Legare. “We show people how to make their own toothpaste and deodorant, using very pure simple ingredients and items in the house that are good for your body and the planet because they’re biodegradable and natural.” Customers can also come in and refill their single-use plastic containers with bulk items such as laundry detergent, dish soap, hand soap, shampoo, body wash, and glass cleaner. Legare sources products from a range of low-impact businesses like Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve, Meliora Cleaning Products, and Brush with Bamboo. She also features local makers: The O Zone’s body soap is from Hudson Valley Bee Supply; the lavender eye pillows are created by Hudson Pioneer’s Suzanne Chika; and wool placemats and wall hangings are by local maker Delianna Simeonova.
“We are off the beaten path, but people are coming to The O Zone because they want to make a change,” says Legare, “It’s produced a beautiful community of people who are coming together to make a difference and working toward taking part in saving the planet.”
Back in 2015, filmmaker Beth Davenport was meeting with an information technologist and noticed a whiteboard full of ideas from a prior meeting he’d had with actress, director, and producer Mary Stuart Masterson. The jottings resonated with Davenport, who asked the tech to make an introduction. He sent Masterson an email with Davenport’s resume, the two women subsequently met at Bread Alone in Rhinebeck, and an extraordinary business idea was born.
“We talked about what we could add to the existing film and television ecosystem in the Hudson Valley to attract more productions and make sure residents—with a priority on access and inclusion—could benefit from job opportunities and career pathways,” says Davenport. The brainstorming led to one of the biggest production projects in the HV: Upriver Studios. Launched in May 2021, it’s the region’s largest female-owned film and television production facility, leasing a 101,000-square-foot warehouse and office space formerly occupied by a printing company that abandoned its Saugerties plant over ten years earlier.
First and foremost, Upriver is a sustainable soundstage, meaning it houses soundproof rooms for production crews to use. “We don’t create or own film and televisions sets—Upriver’s clients create, own, and determine the next phase of their production sets,” says Davenport, adding that the studio is in talks with New York film businesses to organize a reusable and recyclable set program in the future. The first client to use Upriver Studio’s sound stage facilities was the hit HBO Max series reboot “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin.” In 2022, Upriver also hosted several indie shoots, including those from local producers.
The first client to use Upriver Studio’s sound stage facilities was the hit HBO series reboot “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin.”
The women kept busy in the years leading up to the Upriver launch. In 2016, Davenport and Masterson (both Dutchess County residents) started Stockade Works, a nonprofit that mentors and refers residents to productions that are shooting in the Hudson Valley. Its focus is to work with “members of the community who have been locked out of employment and training opportunities, particularly women, people of color, veterans, and those who are underemployed.” To date, Stockade Works has provided hands-on training through its Crew Boot Camps and other workshops, events, and career awareness programs. Over 245 Hudson Valley locals have been trained—several whom worked on the “Pretty Little Liars” set—and continue to receive ongoing mentorship, job referrals, and important networking opportunities.
To increase growth of the film and television industry in the Hudson Valley, Upriver Studios plans to construct more soundstages in the county to help attract larger productions, in particular episodic television shows. “The reason we’re really interested in that type of production is because they employ people for a longer period of time, hire a lot of crew members, and spend millions of dollars locally,” says Davenport. In the meantime, she adds, “we are all extremely excited for 2023.”
Michelle Martinetti, chief executive officer and founder of the River Valley Arts Center (RVAC), was born and raised in Wappingers Falls and moved back (to Poughkeepsie) thirteen years ago with her family.
During the height of the pandemic, she and her husband, Phil, were both working for a local fitness center, which ultimately closed. “We were home, and an idea was simmering in my head,” she says. “I always enjoyed participating in artistic and fun community events and [our area lacked] an ’everything-under-one-roof’ type of place.” Michelle envisioned a facility where parents could bring their kids to take science classes and music lessons—or even learn new skills themselves.
This dream came to fruition when RVAC, an over 5,000-square-foot venue in Wappingers Falls’ former United Methodist Church, opened its doors in December 2021. The facility has 10 studios that are rented by dozens of clients on a come-and-go basis, including visual artists, photographers, and massage therapists, as well businesses that provide yoga, dance, STEM, and music classes. “We’ve turned into an incubator for local businesses,” says Martinetti, “It’s been great for people who didn’t want or couldn’t afford their own brick-and-mortar businesses or had to shut down during Covid.”
Clients can rent the space as needed and “leave without all the overhead,” she adds. Some clients, like Rooted Yoga, were so successful they were able to open separate storefronts. Owner Kate Baumann hosted yoga classes at RVAC and then launched a Wappingers Falls-based studio last fall.
Currently, Martinetti is RVAC’s sole employee, handling 80–100 clients in 2022 alone. The center has a 1,200-square-foot event room that can be used for everything from bridal showers to birthday parties, and there is also a commissary kitchen (in partnership with Hudson River Housing, Inc., a nonprofit that develops affordable housing and creative opportunities for marginalized communities) that can be rented for catering and food truck operations. Pop-up events and workshops include cooking and cookie decorating classes as well as painting workshops.
We are a little bit of everything for everyone with our own in-house arts and community programs and events.
What’s next for RVAC? “There’s a plan for the sanctuary to be turned into an event space,” says Martinetti. The 2,000-square-foot room—complete with a stage—will become a multi-use hall for performances and concerts and can be filled with tables or theater-style seating. “It’s an important part of the community because it provides a safe, inclusive space where locals can gather to create, teach, learn, or celebrate. It gives youth an opportunity to participate in programs that help them find their passion or a new hobby in the arts.”
Longtime Catskill resident Eugene DeVillamil and his business partner Paul Rosenblatt, Jr. launched Taddle.io, a cybersecurity and infrastructure protection company in early 2022.
DeVillamil has spent his entire career in IT, so he’s had the ability to look at internet security from many different angles. The name Taddle.io, he says, is derived from the fact that “our service prevents against your site becoming a ’tattle tale’ of your data and user behavior.” The company offers IOT (internet of things) protection, from the smallest factory sensors to satellites and beyond, which DeVillamil explains is “basically anything you can’t put a traditional antivirus program on.”
We are proving that you don’t have to be in the city to make it.
While most leading tech companies are based in New York City and Silicon Valley, the duo behind Taddle.io wanted to be in the Hudson Valley. “Because of Covid, a lot of people moved here from the city and infrastructure has expanded quite a bit in the Catskill area,” says DeVillamil. “We did a pilot program for T-Mobile here for their 5G internet service about a year before it was publicly available.” The amount of broadband coverage in the Catskills has increased exponentially thanks to regional and national carriers that invested in the area. FirstLight, an Albany-based telecommunications service that provides the Northeast with cost-effective and high-quality fiber-optic data, internet, and more, gave Taddle.io a 100-gigabit high-speed fiber line. “Those two things allowed us to function at the highest level possible up here,” he adds.
Being in Catskill gives Taddle.io a lot of flexibility. “We’re only two-and-a-half hours from New York City and a half an hour drive from Albany International Airport, so our location offers the best of all worlds,” says DeVillamil. They are currently in discussions about ways to broaden their footprint in the Valley and “heavily expand our growth in the post-pandemic economy and remote work culture,” he explains.
While DeVillamil can’t divulge clients’ names for security reasons, he says most are nonprofits and financial services in the HV and beyond. “We are proving that you don’t have to be in the city to make it. With the technological advances in upstate New York, we can perform as well here as in any other location.”
Eric Baxter has firm roots in the Poughkeepsie community—and has dreamed of breathing life back into the city for years. “I’m fourth generation here. My great grandparents immigrated from Europe to Poughkeepsie,” says Baxter, vice president of Baxter Building Corporation. He and his sister Amanda, the company’s president, are known for designing eye-catching projects throughout the Valley, including Heritage Food + Drink restaurant in Wappingers Falls, Seminary Hill Cidery in Callicoon, and Mill House Brewing Company in Poughkeepsie.
Baxter had long had his eyes on two industrial buildings at 33 and 35 Academy Street, which were vacant—and unsightly—for decades. After much anticipation from locals and foodies alike (as well as a $13 million investment), the first stage of The Academy officially opened last July and features a food hall, bar, and event space. The food hall includes Smoke 33 barbecue; salads and other healthy fare from Valley Greens; dim sum and noodles courtesy of East-West; Café + Grill; and Valley Taco. The Academy also operates Hudson Hopworks, where visitors can taste and purchase local craft beers.
On the second floor, the special event space—called Keepsake—has been very active. The 8,700-square-foot venue features sophisticated industrial design and large windows. “It’s perfect for weddings and other celebrations, as well as business meetings,” says Christian Palikuca, managing director of the Academy. “We’ll also be offering group fitness classes and our own curated events.” Palikuca works alongside Rachael Potts (culinary director and executive chef), Heather Post (director of sales, events, and catering), and Ben Friedman (head mixologist).
But that’s not all. The Academy Kitchen, a 75-seat fine dining restaurant, recently opened. Plus, in the five-story building next door, there will be a second location of Newburgh Flour Shop (a family-owned bakery with fantastic breads and pastries) and a co-working space on the ground floor, and 28 affordable rental apartments on the top four floors.
What used to be empty buildings with no life has become an active community hub.
Baxter says The Academy has already made a significant impact in Poughkeepsie. “What used to be empty buildings with no life has become an active community hub—a place where both city residents and visitors can hang out, meet, and enjoy themselves,” he says. “That brings a lot of inspiration into what the City of Poughkeepsie can become.”
Created by Mahopac residents Danielle and Alain Blais, this Putnam County CBD health and wellness shop started by selling products at farmers markets and crafts fairs back in 2020 and opened its brick-and-mortar shop in June of 2022. When Covid hit, Danielle was working for her family business—Park Ford of Mahopac—and Alain was an operating engineer. Business was slow and they found themselves at home with a lot of extra time. “We noticed there were no CBD shops around here,” says Danielle, “So we thought, ’Why not?’ It can’t hurt to try and generate extra income for something we’re passionate about.”
The couple always had an interest in the CBD industry, so they started to do some research. “A lot of people think cannabis is just something to get you stoned. We discovered all the medical benefits it has to offer—and wanted to bring it to our community and present it in a positive light,” explains Danielle. Their mission in opening Putnam County’s only CBD-forward wellness center is to be a positive influence in the industry and introduce clients to natural therapeutics.
A lot of people think cannabis is just something to get you stoned. We discovered all the medical benefits it has to offer.
CBD does not contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient found in marijuana that produces a high. Among its potential benefits, CBD has been shown to reduce anxiety, stress, chronic pain, inflammation, and blood pressure, and aid digestion and sleep. “CBD provides all the benefits of cannabis without the psychoactive effect,” Danielle says, “which is why it’s become such a big player.”
Hudson Valley Hemp is also becoming a big player. Unlike most CBD retailers across the region, it houses a health and wellness center. In addition to selling a range of CBD products—including beverages, edibles, skincare, and a pet line—the center also offers CBD massages, cupping, reflexology, and intravenous therapy.
What’s on the horizon? “To be continued,” she laughs, and alludes to dreams of expanding CBD shops that focus on body healing and health across the Hudson Valley. “We’re in a large area and there’s a lot of room for expansion. I feel we’re making a difference in Putnam County and the surrounding communities by giving our customers the opportunity to learn about the benefits that cannabis can provide,” says Danielle. “People who were turning to prescriptions can now turn to nature.”
Rosendale resident Jesse Brown always dreamed of launching a video streaming app that celebrates the uniqueness, diversity, and rich history of the Hudson Valley. So, he teamed up with local film pros Angel Gates Fonseca, Laura Kandel, and Shawn Strong—and in June 2022 HUDSY TV was born.
Think of it as Netflix made by, for, and about the Hudson Valley. “The app is designed to bring local stories into the same arena as the bigger players. As more folks cut the cord and the smart TV revolution takes over, we needed to make sure there was a model for local stories to exist in that ecosystem,” says Brown. Beyond streaming original content, “HUDSY is a place for local organizations and filmmakers to distribute their work to their communities,” adds Brown.
A filmmaker and storyteller for over 15 years, Brown says the founders are all artists and art advocates from the Hudson Valley who truly appreciate the beauty of the region. “At the core of what we’re doing is celebrating art in our community and making connections in this modern digital world,” he says.
In its planning stages, HUDSY received a three-year grant from the NoVo Foundation to develop the concept. Beyond that, there are three main sources of revenue: community-supported storytelling (a modern approach to advertising from local businesses), grants and philanthropic endeavors, and a subscription model called HUDSY+. All users can access a library of over 300 locally-made films on the HUDSY app, which is free and available for iPhone, Android, Apple TV, Roku, and similar devices, and online at Hudsy.tv. Among the many popular shows is a seven-episode, 22-minute video series called “This Organic Life.” “The show features interviews with HV chefs, farmers, butchers, and restaurateurs, and focuses on regenerative agriculture,” says Brown.
HUDSY+ subscribers pay $14.99/ month to access additional original content made by the HUDSY team, apprentices, and Community Content Fund winners. “As filmmakers ourselves we recognize the struggle to bring passion projects to life and we wanted to set up a program that gave local filmmakers that ability. It doesn’t just benefit the artists, the content also showcases amazing folks from our region who probably wouldn’t have their stories told due to the lack of funding,” says Brown.
At the core of what we’re doing is celebrating art in our community and making connections in this modern digital world.
HUDSY extends an annual call for content creators to apply for up to $5,000 in support from the company’s fund. One of the first grant recipients, Chris Nostrand of Nostrand Productions, made the 55-minute film “Firefly: The Tay Fisher Story,” about a Kingston High School alum and basketball player who broke records as a Tiger, played at Siena College, and spent 10 years as a beloved member of the Harlem Globetrotters.
Brown says HUDSY is currently producing a “bunch of new great stories” that will drop on the platform throughout the year. “HUDSY is something that we hope can build in other communities across the country and even the world. We wanted to start with the Hudson Valley because of its long history of arts and culture and because it’s our home. It’s the perfect place to honor and the best place to start,” says Brown.