Colorful bottles of whiskey in a rainbow of flavors – lemon, jalapeno ginger and blood orange, to name a few — lined a table in the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator, the work of Waterman’s Distillery. On another table, professional brochures advertised Evergreene Graphics and Foland Lumber’s services.
These are just a small sampling of businesses created with guidance from the Entrepreneurial Assistance Center (EAC), located on the incubator’s top floor. Run by SUNY Broome as a project of the Binghamton Local Development Corporation and Broome Triad, the center won a statewide award for Outstanding Performance from Empire State Development (ESD).
ESD operates 24 Entrepreneurial Assistance Centers throughout the state.
“The businesses that began with our center continue to grow, not only increasing revenue year after year, but adding employees,” said SUNY Broome President Kevin E. Drumm during a July 12 conference announcing the award. “In short, the Center not only transforms individual lives, but truly helps facilitate the region’s economic growth.”
In 2018, the center enrolled 33 new business clients while serving 30 existing clients, and helped five new businesses get their start. Four new clients were veterans, and one of the new businesses is veteran-owned.
Over the past year, 22 of the current businesses in the program reported increased sales totaling nearly $5 million. Eleven of them hired additional employees – a total of 36 – while 13 retained nearly 90 employees. Four startup businesses reported $2.3 million in aggregate sales.
“Multiply those numbers by the 15 years the Center has been open, and you begin to grasp just how big an impact the Center has on the region,” Dr. Drumm said. The EAC has a personal impact for the president as well; his wife began her own successful business after undergoing training at the EAC, he said.
One of the EAC’s clients, Waterman’s Distillery, was chosen as the statewide Entrepreneur of the Year. While distilling has been a longtime hobby for owner Joseph Alig, the EAC played an important role in helping turn his passion into a viable business.
“We learned how to incorporate,” he explained. “We certainly couldn’t have done it without their guidance and connections.”
Going forward, Waterman’s is looking to expand into all parts of New York State, and potentially nationally, explained Joseph and his wife and business partner, Michelle. They’re coming up with new products, and also teaming up with the Vestal Coal House – run by another proud family of SUNY Broome alumni, the Mushallas – to bring in entertainers and professional athletes.
Reigniting the entrepreneurial spirit
The old stereotype of entrepreneurs typically involves tinkering in a garage, noted Assemblyman Clifford Crouch. The EAC gives future business-owners a place to start, as well as some needed guidance, he said.
And that guidance is critical because starting a business can be complex, involving such factors as insurance, payroll, banking and the legal system, acknowledged Broome County Executive Jason Garnar.
“Many of us have been working for years to reignite the entrepreneurial spirit that founded this community,” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, reflecting on the Southern Tier’s history as the birthplace of IBM and other businesses.
While open to everyone, the EAC targets women, minorities, veterans and people with disabilities, noted Janet Hertzog, SUNY Broome’s director of Continuing Education and Workforce Development. Darlene Kanuk, who coordinates the EAC, helps entrepreneurs navigate the sometimes-byzantine process of becoming certified as a minority-owned business, which can help them land state contracts.
Community volunteers and business mentors also play a crucial role in the center’s work.
“Watching people discuss their potential and make their dreams a reality is truly rewarding,” Hertzog said.
Info Night on Aug. 8
Have an idea for a business? This year’s EAC program runs from 6 to 9 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays from Sept. 9 through Dec. 2 at the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator, located on Hawley Street in Binghamton. Join SUNY Broome for an information night from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 8 in the incubator’s third-floor classroom. Call (607) 777-4022 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.