Startups find room to grow in BankNote

Paul Zaid

Jimmy Serrano (right), who recently joined the BXL Business Incubator, talks with current incubator business owner and manager Thomas Ventrilla of Evergreen Tax Services (left).

BXL is home to 60 small businesses of all stripes

Jimmy Serrano had long dreamed of moving his accounting business to a real office space, rather than the kitchen table in his Brooklyn apartment. But with commercial rents the way they are in this city, he knew it would be close to impossible.

Serrano also knew he needed not only space but mentoring and support services to achieve success. Then he stumbled on the term “business incubators” in a Google search.

A business incubator helps develop new and startup companies by providing services such as management training along with office space. Serrano met with three incubators in Manhattan and then took a look at one of three business incubators in the Bronx – BXL on Garrison Avenue. With its friendly and close-knit environment, Serrano immediately felt this was the place for his business.

“Being a start-up business, I knew renting the standard office space was out of the question,” said Serrano, who now runs JSS Business Solutions out of a sunny cubicle at BXL.

This past January, the business incubator set up in the landmarked BankNote building was taken over and rebranded as BXL by the Business Outreach Center, with the New York City Economic Development Corporation as its sponsor. The original incubator was run by Sunshine Bronx Business Incubator and opened in 2012.

The new organization intends to expand support services for its tenants, or “members,” including social media workshops, pop-up shop hosting, marketing and legal counseling, and low-interest, micro-lending services, said executive director Nancy Carin.

Currently there are 60 businesses that call the incubator home, with a total of 90 members, said Jerelyn Rodriguez, the manager of the incubator, but the space has room for at least 120 members. Many of the current members are in the technology industry, ranging from software developers to computer repairs, said Rodriguez. Another sizable group is health-care businesses, primarily home-care companies. Overall there is a wide variety, including a trucking company and an environmentally conscious non-profit.

While any entrepreneur can be a member of the business incubator for as long as they would like, the hope is that some of the businesses will eventually outgrow the space and move on, said Carin.

“Our goal is to continue offering great services while continuing to research new and innovative services that evolve in business and our society,” said Rodriguez.

A Virtual Membership is priced at $99 a month for the business owner who is out in the field all day and wishes to only have a business address and mailbox. The Dedicated Membership starts at $349 a month for workstations in one-, two- and four-person configurations, with varying levels of privacy. All workstations include built-in outlets and ethernet ports, as well as lockable storage units and access to wireless network printers and high-speed internet.

Built with a $250,000 grant from the city in 2012, BXL is one of 15 startup incubators and co-working spaces across New York City’s five boroughs. Over 1,000 startup businesses supporting 1,500 jobs have benefited from city-sponsored incubators.

Inside BXL, the chic hub features large windows on all sides, an open workspace with cubicles and orange and lime green furniture dotted throughout. The glass-walled conference rooms give the space a modern touch. The 11,000-square foot facility is open 24/7, and includes access to in-house business, legal and tech support. The design is intended to support the notion that it’s more than just an office space; it’s a place for sharing ideas, collaborating and building a real camaraderie among entrepreneurs – where some tenants say business advice is free at the water cooler.

“You see a huge return on your investment here,” said Darnell Lynch, owner and founder of DLynch Technology Solutions, a web technology and marketing consultant business that helps small businesses. “Everyone is always willing to offer advice and assistance with business questions. It’s like we are all in the same boat, we are all start-up businesses on varying levels.”

In 2012 when the business incubator first opened, Eddie Yanguas-Johnson was excited to start his company Vison21 Networks, a technology company that installs computer networks and telephone systems for businesses. He’s seen it all there, from a business that hauled food scraps to composting sites to a wine and rum distributor.

“Many ideas and concepts that have come through here have been simply amazing. It’s great to see fellow business owners grow and succeed,” said Yanguas-Johnson.

Sylvia Reyes, manager of Luscious Vines, which imports premium wine from Chile, takes advantage of the collective environment – and works it into her business model. .

“The moment that I start to wonder about the appeal of a wine, I just simply pour sample cups, walk around and ask for feedback,” said Reyes. “It’s perfect! I can find accessible and reliable customer feedback without leaving my office.” The only downfall, she jokes, is the regular requests from colleagues for more “customer feedback.”

The Business Outreach Center Network signed a seven-year lease, and has big plans for the future.

“We’re hoping this will be a long-term success,” said Carin. “We have so many incredible people here. Rather than think of it as somewhere to run from, the Bronx is somewhere to invest.”

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