As we continue to watch all our traditional institutions — government, business, the media — struggle, it has become clear to some that the key to success is to start their own business. Just about every county offers help to those trying to do just that. But Orange County is the only county in the Valley that offers would-be entrepreneurs a physical location to build their better mousetrap.
The Orange County Business Accelerator, located at the New York International Plaza at Stewart Airport, is a “community of start-ups,” says Peter J. Gregory, the enterprise development director. “We take in companies, from those that are just a concept all the way to those already making a million dollars in annual sales, and we provide a space where they can benefit from being around each other.”
With 10,000 square feet of office/incubator space in New Windsor, the Accelerator offers budding executives below-market-cost rental space with high-tech amenities such as broadband Internet service, Wi-Fi, a 35-person conference room (equipped with an integrated video-conferencing system), and a reception area. Staff can provide in-house management, marketing, legal and real estate services. The office also facilitates the networking that helps companies grow by providing access to academic and corporate partners; state and local government officials; and venture capital providers, including the Orange County Industrial Development Agency (IDA).
Gregory calls it “the CEO water-cooler effect. These new executives benefit from meeting others like them, bouncing ideas around, seeing what works.” He joined the Accelerator in 2009, “when it was just a dirt floor,” bringing with him more than two decades of experience in business development. A Dutchess County native who lives in Poughkeepsie, Gregory, 48, earned a degree in electrical engineering from SUNY Buffalo; an MBA at the University of Rochester; and an MS in electrical engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology. His experience includes capital procurement and marketing strategies for companies — both his own and others — up and down the East Coast. While living in Atlanta and consulting for the Solar Energy Consortium, he wrote business plans for solar farms in the Hudson Valley. “By 2008 I saw there was actually more business up here than down there,” he says. “That drew me back.” Gregory, who is single, is thrilled to be here, he says, to take part in hiking, biking, skiing, and other outdoor activities that he enjoys.
The newly formed Accelerator tapped him to find grant money. It is not funded by taxes. Rather, it falls under the direction of the Orange County IDA, which provides a 3-year, $1.5 million commitment in operating capital, Gregory says. That project began a regular consulting relationship that turned, in July 2011, to full-time employment. His bona fides in finance, marketing, and operations are coupled with a rare ability to translate business-ese into regular English. “I enjoy the people side of business,” he says.
So much so that he literally dives into their ideas. When a company called Continental Organics LLC came to the Accelerator with an idea for raising fish in an enclosed, eco-friendly tank, Gregory not only helped draft the business plan, he learned the business. “I got certified in raising tilapia from Cornell,” he laughs. “That’s how far we go here.”
Continental Organics, by the way, already has a large client “who will take everything they grow, on the order of $6 million a year,” Gregory says. And they are still in Orange County. So is a company called CymoGen Dx, a biogenetics firm. The company features Canadian technology and California financing, but the principal lives in the area. “He had no idea where to put his office, and he could have gone anywhere, but we gave him a community and he decided to stay here,” Gregory says. The firm will soon employ 25 people, and it has encouraged another high-tech firm to locate here as well, Gregory says.
And that’s the bottom line. “It’s well-known that most innovation comes from small companies,” he says, “and we have become a beacon in the Valley for start-ups.”