TORRINGTON – Businesses aren’t born on the lower level of the Goshen Enterprise Center, but that’s where they’re raised.
Just below the main offices of the Goshen County Economic Development Corporation, there are three occupied offices. Each one houses a different business and a different entrepreneur – but all three businesses have the same goal: to experience success, growth and to eventually move out of the GCEDC’s Business Incubator program.
The program provides the business with affordable, well-kept office space, internet, copy machines, business cards and all of the small things that businesses need to succeed, but take too big a toll on the bottom line for start-ups. GCEDC also provides advertising through its media, and provides all the advice and support the business owners need to eventually branch out on their own. According to GCEDC CEO Lisa Miller, the program allows the entrepreneurs to focus on their business by providing low-cost access to those necessities.
“We provide them with space, and some of the furniture,” Miller said. “We provide them with space to work in and we provide them with technical assistance. That is a broad range. If they need help with marketing, advertising, and if they need help with correspondence – how to write things, make copies, connecting, we can help with that.
The current occupants – Wendy George Therapy Services, Health Thyme and Kelley Integrity Solutions – vary greatly in their services and client bases. But according to George, the GCEDC staff and the incubator program provided services and support that can help any new business.
George said that when she decided to open her own practice, the business incubator offered exactly the tools – and encouragement – she needed.
“My husband went and looked at office space, and he would like it but it just wasn’t professional, it wasn’t clean, it wasn’t these things,” she said. “I think just having the absolute support for my business and having concern for me as a business owner really encouraged me. I never felt like anything failed. They helped me with a logo. They helped me with the business cards and getting out there. It has just really blossomed and bloomed and I don’t think I would be nearly as successful as I am right now without this.”
Helping entrepreneurs build that confidence is one of the GCEDC’s major objectives, Miller said. Operating a start-up business can be frustrating and disheartening at times, and the GCEDC staff is there to help the business owners along.
“We’re helping them believe in themselves and that they can really do this and make it happen,” Miller said.
Nona Kindsvater had experience in owning and operating her own business before she opened Health Thyme, a natural and holistic healing center and health food store. She got her start as a massage therapist. She said holistic healing ultimately saved her life and the experience inspired her to go on and start Health Thyme.
“I’ve owned several businesses in my lifetime and starting a business is always hard,” Kindsvater said. “If you’re doing it on a shoestring budget, it’s even harder. They provide a lot of amenities while you figure out if your business is going to succeed.
“They provide an affordable, all-inclusive office space. They have provided various business trainings, advice, counseling, support – everything as simple as a copy machine, internet, all these little things that can eat away at a small business. The training has been fantastic. They help us learn how to build business skills, finances, business plans and those things.
“GCEDC has been pivotal in developing small business in Goshen County. For me, it’s allowed me to grow and expand.”
Kelley Integrity wouldn’t exist without those services, according to owner Pat Kelley, who has worked out of the incubator for almost three years. Kelley Integrity produces training materials for industrial clients, including some in the oil and gas industry. He started out by producing videos, but he’s currently developing 3D training materials that have the potential the change his industry. Miller was instrumental in helping Kelley Integrity grow.
“It was necessary,” Kelley said. “Without it, I’m not here. I can’t record in an automobile. I need power. I needed a place where I could sit down and write a transcript. Without being here, I wouldn’t have made it this far.
“I’ve got two get small kids at home, so getting any quiet is out of the question. Lisa’s office used to be right down here. You’d have days where you’re frustrated because things aren’t going right and you’re ready to quit. She was there and said we’re going to have days like this. Lisa was a big part of keeping me here.”
Kelley said he believes his business could break $100,000 in sales next year, and he has clients in 37 states and several countries, including Iraq. He said his training videos are ranked No. 1 on Google, even beating out videos from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – and he did it all from his small office in the GCEDC Business Incubator.
“It started right here in this little room. It’s pretty cool,” he said.
The goal of the incubator is to help businesses get started, then give them the confidence to branch out on their own in around three years, though that’s not a hard deadline, Miller said. While Kelley and Kindsvater are still building to that point, George is hoping to be one of the incubator’s success stories. She recently closed on an office building just a few blocks north of the incubator, where she hopes to be able to grow her business further and thrive in Goshen County.
“I had the education, but I didn’t have the confidence,” she said. “You can ask anyone here – they saw me struggle. I’ve literally struggled with shyness and uncertainty and things like that, and they helped me just really grow.
“I had a feeling at one point that it would’ve been really easy to get a job for a company, but I’m really impacting lives and really helping people move forward because I was able to conquer the business part of it. I really understand it and can move forward very confidently. I know they talked about the little egg hatching and growing and sprouting wings - that’s really how I feel.”
Miller said George is a great example of what the GCEDC wants to achieve with the program.
“She came to us and she was really hesitant,” Miller said. “She was doing this on a part time basis, and it was through us helping her and encouraging her that she made the leap and took this on full-time. She’s a great success story, that in three years time, she was able to spread her wings.”
With George’s departure, the GCEDC will be looking for the next hopeful entrepreneur who could benefit from the program. Miller said there are several factors the corporation will consider before deciding on a new occupant.
“As businesses come to us, especially start-ups, we kind of get to know their plans,” Miller said. “We get to know their planning, and what their business and financial planning looks like, and where they’re at in the process. They do have a financial commitment, with them having to pay some rent. We examine if they’re really at that point and if they’re a good fit.
“We want them to truly be a start-up and not someone who is just looking for low-cost rent. They have to be in the start-up stages, and they have to be doing business in Goshen County.”
The incubator could have a long-lasting impact on the local economy. Miller said it helps Goshen County businesses do business in Goshen County, and can help strengthen the local economy.
“The great thing is that when they graduate, when they go to the next level, we’re keeping the economy going by keeping the business in Goshen County,” Miller said.