Incubate NYC (Hybrid)
Incubate NYC: Incubators for Economic Development
by Lara McCaffrey
The Bronx in New York City is known as an artistic incubator—home of legendary hip hop artists and avant garde graffiti. In the business world, incubators have another meaning: they are places to foster entrepreneurs, build technology and create new jobs. In New York, that kind of innovation is associated with Manhattan’s Silicon Alley, not with the economically depressed neighborhoods of the Bronx. But now, the Bronx has its first business incubator.
Check out Lara’s print portion of her hybrid radio master’s project here.
HOST INTRO: The Bronx in New York City is known as an artistic incubator—home of legendary hip hop artists and avant garde graffiti. In the business world, incubators have another meaning: they are places to foster entrepreneurs, build technology and create new jobs. In New York, that kind of innovation is associated with Manhattan’s Silicon Alley, not with the economically depressed neighborhoods of the Bronx. But now, the Bronx has its first business incubator. Lara McCaffrey takes us inside.
Ambi starts at beginning of next paragraph. Outside noise, door opening, foot steps to elevator, elevator “ping!”, ambi of Sunshine Bronx offices comes up.
NARRATION: At the corner of Garrison Avenue and Tiffany Street in Hunts Point stands a red brick building. Above its east entrance is a metal sign that reads “BankNote.”. In the 1930s, the American BankNote Company manufactured U.S. pennies and Dominican pesos here.
Dumb tape of Joe Carrano giving a tour of Sunshine comes up at “There’s a new boss here.” CARRANO: So this is all open work space. This is all open work space. The same hard wired tables We have the couch set up over here where people can work off the couch if they’re in coworking space…
Today, the BankNote building has a new identity, Sunshine Bronx, a government-funded business incubator. And there’s a new boss here, Joe Carrano, who ticks off the names of some of the 65 businesses inside the old building.
Dumb tape fades out before Carrano’s actuality. Keep a bed of office ambi under acts and tracks throughout piece.
CARRANO: Sergio Menendez he does New Adventure Group Corp, we have Medena Technologies—they do like computer networking setting up IT infrastructures and stuff like that… Sophia Samuel Ellis at the Samuel Ellis Law Firm she does immigration law, Reggie does the community outreach for his church—
Wait. Did he say church?
—that’s Real Life Church.
STUTZMAN: I’ve been here since the very beginning of it.
That’s Reggie Stutzman. He’s the pastor of Real Life Church and one of the earliest people to rent office space at Sunshine Bronx. Stutzman holds mass at a community center nearby but he needed an office to work in. On most days he comes into Sunshine to prepare sermons and do his work for the local community board.
STUTZMAN: Hunts Points is not you know–hasn’t been known to be a very glamorous part of the Bronx. Um and so I’m very appreciative for the flexibility that Sunshine has had to just say “OK what’s in the community and who can we help?”
A few cubicles away from Stutzman’s office, things start to look a little more like a business incubator.
SANCHEZ: I have my own business. It’s called Mass Ideation.
That’s Miguel Sanchez. He founded the techy start-up in 2009. Mass Ideation creates digital content for all kinds of companies. It’s the kind of company the New York City’s Economic Development Corporation wanted to foster when it started funding business incubators. Sunshine Bronx is one of 25 city funded business incubators and workspaces created during the last few years of the Bloomberg administration..
Some of Mass Ideation’s innovations are apps that use a technology called “augmented reality.” Sanchez demonstrates what happens when you scan an informational flyer with his app “Vibrants” on a smart phone.
SANCHEZ: On one side of the flyer it triggers a 3D dancing robot. And then on the other side of the flyer is…
Sound of video triggered from flyer: “The next evolution in the way we take in information from printed materials. Vibrants contain technology that allow you to scan your prints with your mobile device and see video and or interactive content right on it. Essentially making it come alive.”
SANCHEZ: So that’s pretty much what the technology does. It layers a layer of digital content on physical content. So print being the physical content in this context.
Sanchez says Mass Ideation currently has 18 employees though only 3, including him, are full time. All of them used to work at Sunshine. But the commute was long for some, so now everyone works remotely except Sanchez.
Mass Ideation was one of the first businesses to come here, says Sanchez. He hopes he is setting an example.
SANCHEZ: I want people to be able to come here and say “Alright if companies like mine can exist out of here then mine can as well, you know?”
Ask businesses in the Sunshine incubator what they get out of being here, and you get all kinds of answers.
For insurance broker Jason Crispin, it’s all about low rent and overhead costs.
CRISPIN: I’m paying 650 a month as opposed to paying 1300 a month. You know having my own office space and having to pay rent, electricity, um, internet, phone services, etc, etc. Cleaning. You know they clean here for you, so. (15 seconds)
Many entrepreneurs have to base their business out of home to save money on rent. Event planner Bailey Beacon says working in an incubator gives her day structure and isn’t isolating like working at home.
BEACON: I hate working out of my house. I’ve done it on and off over the years and I don’t last a month. I definitely need to feed off of other people. With out an office space home can be very distracting and can also be very isolating. And you go to a place like this and everyone has a good amount of energy.
There’s a symbiosis throughout the building. Miguel Sanchez of Mass Ideation gets financial advice from Sunshine staff. And a PR company at Sunshine helped him get on the New York Daily News. Right now he’s seeking minority certification from the city, which will let it bid on more city-offered contracts. Another business in Sunshine is helping him with the application – free of charge.
SANCHEZ:The many services… People with their expertise just sitting feet away from you, you know, and that’s very cool, you really can’t find that in many places. (9 seconds)
Sanchez recommends incubators to others because of this helpful atmosphere.
SANCHEZ: I feel like every business should at least spend a few months in an incubator and just see, learn from other businesses. Cause like with me, I spent the first year and a half in an agency.
Without the mentorship of an incubator, Sanchez mostly learned hard knocks from his time starting a business alone. There was no one to turn to when he had a problem.
SANCHEZ: Here it’s very easy to just “hey has this ever happened to you? What did you do?” “Yes this is what happened to me this is how I handled it.”
Right now, the incubator is mostly servicing the Bronx folk that want their own businesses but they feel a responsibility to Hunts Point’s economic development.
In order to help the neighborhood, they’ve established partnerships with Baruch College in the Flatiron District and Monroe College in the Bronx to provide classes for Sunshiners and recruit interns from the colleges. Sunshine renters are also active in non-profits that teach technical skills to youth. Both Incubator manager Joe Carrano and Miguel Sanchez are involved with the Knowledge House–a non-profit that teaches kids computer skills.
Carrano says that 52 percent of the businesses in Sunshine are owned by Bronx residents and that they want to hire from the community. However, many of them can’t afford to hire people right away.
CARRANO: A lot of it is helping them grow their business so they’re in a position to hire people. The other part of it is working with different not-for-profit groups and community organizations and different CBOs to help like develop the talent that exists in Hunts point and the South Bronx and Harlem too to kind of get them to the point where they are able to access these jobs.
Pastor Reggie Stutzman appreciates that Sunshine took a chance on the neighborhood. As a community board member, he says the Bronx is in dire strait. 25% of Hunts Point residents make less than 10 thousand a year. He emphasizes the need for Sunshine to help its community. But so far, he’s still waiting on the jobs to arrive.
STUTZMAN: What I’ve seen so far is people just coming here and using it as space but not really thinking outside of the box and thinking about how to raise up the community. I hope that people who think to come start their own businesses think community development as well.
Community development will take time, but BankNote tenants are slowly removing the stigma of Hunts Point.
Lara McCaffrey, Columbia Radio News.