2013 Entrepreneurs of the Year
Founded in 1986 by Roger and Shelley Gray, Center Line Studios (CLS) builds scenery for Broadway shows, opera, and television. After 9/11, the industry went into a recession, so CLS downsized and moved to a smaller location. They were limited by physical space constraints and were unable to accept projects that would enable the company to grow. In March 2011, they purchased a large building that had been vacant for many years and needed substantial work. The Grays spent the summer cleaning and doing construction, but in August Hurricane Irene flooded a nearby creek, which flowed through their building and delayed their move. In January 2012, CLS’ small shop caught on fire. The shop continued to function, but they were forced to move the office to their dining room. In February 2012, the Grays met with the Mid-Hudson SBDC with the goal of securing a loan to finish the renovations. A few months later, they moved the office out of their dining room and the shop out of the burned facility and into their new headquarters. CLS is a true Phoenix, rising out of the ruins on several occasions.
(Advisor: Myriam Bouchard)
The idea for Slick Text was born last year when founder Matt Baglia worked for a company that was considering adding text messaging to its marketing mix. After reviewing several providers Matt recognized some common flaws among all of them - each platform was fairly difficult to understand and use. None of them placed emphasis on educating their customers on how to be successful with their product, and all lacked personal customer service. Matt and his partner Ryan Kinal realized that if they could create a service without those flaws, there would be an excellent opportunity for a piece of the industry’s pie. From a technical side, Ryan and Matt have a background in website programming, design and development. From the business side, they found the SBDC at JCC an amazing shoulder to lean on for all of their business-related needs. A few months after the initial launch, a salesperson was added to get the company in front of the right people at the right time, and every day the employees at SlickText build new relationships and learn about new issues their technology can address.
(Advisor: Irene Dobies)
When he was in the Air Force and traveling throughout Asia, Europe and the Middle East, Peter DelCotto developed a wealth of knowledge about food and exotic cultures. He came to believe that food tells a certain story about the people and their environment. He decided to become a chef to share his experiences in other cuisines by highlighting the most popular dishes of each respective culture. After earning a degree in Hospitality Management, Peter consulted the Buffalo SBDC for assistance in refining his business plan and financing. Peter credits having a strong business plan and taking the time to truly learn this new industry as critical factors in enabling him to successfully leverage his management background into the restaurant venture. In May 2012 he got funding and founded The Woodshed, a family owned and operated restaurant that serves up traditional Southern style smokehouse barbecue. The restaurant is Peter’s lifelong dream - a place with a relaxed casual atmosphere and great food on the table.
(Advisor: John McKeone)
Agricultural Entrepreneur of the Year –
Cynthia West-Chamberlain, Black Willow Winery [Niagara SBDC]
Black Willow Winery is located on the south shore of Lake Ontario, in the heart of the Niagara Wine Trail. The winery sits on 43 beautiful country acres and has the best soil and drainage in the area suited to growing grapes. Black Willow joined the Niagara Wine Trail in January of 2011. This fulfilled a longtime dream for Cynthia West-Chamberlain and her fellow owners. They converted a 35-year-old pole barn into their tasting room and production area, and hired a local winemaker as a consultant to ensure the quality of their wines. Black Willow is open seven days a week and currently offers nine wines. They also have several new varieties in development. The Niagara SBDC helped the clients put together their loan package & business plan to obtain start-up funding, develop a marketing strategy, and connect with local resources. Black Willow is one of the NYS wineries participating in the NYS Wine Outlet in Shanghai, and Cynthia joined an SBDC Fall 2012 trip to see the Wine Outlet. She is sharing her experience with other wineries in the Niagara area.
(Advisor: Maureen Henderson)
In 2011 Kaye Stone-Gansz retired from a 25-year career at Xerox Corporation, and she and her husband Ross formed Stone Goose Enterprises, Inc. In February 2012, Stone Goose Enterprises purchased Smith’s Gravel Pit in Sodus. Kaye is currently the President & CEO of Stone Goose Enterprises and President & Owner of Smith’s Gravel Pit. Kaye runs the day-to-day operations of Smith’s Gravel Pit, an aggregate mining facility; which also provides trucking and excavation services. Smith’s specializes predominantly in various types and sizes of gravel (crushed, washed, cobbles), topsoil, ice control sand and bedding sand. This material is primarily sold to agricultural, construction, municipal, retail and residential clientele. Smith’s is exclusively owned and operated as a certified women-owned business. Kaye also does strategic development and business expansion for Stone Goose Enterprises. The Gansz & Stone names have been affiliated with family owned and operated businesses for more than 100 years in the Wayne County area, including auctioneering, farming, retail, insurance, real estate, and mining.
(Advisor: David Denz)
Eric Cory and his colleagues had extensive experience in the specialty tool and die industry, producing roll dies for radiator and automotive cooling components when they were displaced by an insolvent employer. Eric consulted the SBDC for assistance in starting a new company, using his specialized knowledge and experience in the heat transfer tooling industry. Eric successfully acquired funding through the Chautauqua County IDA and STEDO, and started the company with nine employees. Founded in 2009, EMC Fintech services and produces high precision tooling and equipment for all lines of the heating and cooling industry, including both the aluminum and copper market. Eric and his co-workers take pride in the fact that their products meet the highest standards in the industry, using state-of-the-art laser gauging systems in their processes and quality control. Quality is top priority in all stages of EMC's production, from raw materials coming in to finished product; everything passes a rigorous inspection by highly-trained staff.
(Advisor: Beth Reed)
Energy Innovation Entrepreneur of the Year –
Ryan McGann , Solar Cool Technologies [Stony Brook SBDC]
As a child, Ryan McGann built toys and worked on cars and bicycles, so it was only natural that he’d majored in mechanical engineering. While in school, he found time to build a portable solar assisted refrigerating cooler that can refrigerate food or drinks without ice down to 42 degrees F for as long as 18 hours. The cooler can also recharge/power electronic devices. Shortly after inventing the cooler, Ryan became an SBDC client and entered the annual entrepreneurial competition at the University. After winning $20,000, Ryan filed patents, had additional proof of concept prototypes completed, and became employed as a full-time engineer. He never gave up the dream of becoming an entrepreneur and commercializing the cooler – especially when 3,000 orders for the $300 cooler were received through the company’s website. In 2011, Ryan made a presentation to Long Island angel investors and ultimately received $800,000in funding. He launched sales of the cooler during spring 2013 on kickstarter.com. With possible medical and commercial applications on the horizon, the future for Solar Cool Technologies is as bright as a sunny day.
(Advisor: Bernie Ryba)
Manufacturer of the Year –
Jason DiBenedetto & Leo Rentzis, Noble Wood Shavings [Mohawk Valley SBDC]
Jason DiBenedetto and Leo Rentzis, friends with a shared vision, started Noble Wood Shavings (NWS) in 2011. NWS is Central New York’s only manufacturing facility dedicated to producing the absolute best quality bedding for horses. They use an exclusive recipe of soft wood species to ensure a top quality product that is consistent, super absorbent, and rot-free. The product is super-heated during the drying process to kill bacteria, fungus, and molds. Locating the business in Sherrill Manufacturing Park with low-cost power and overhead helped keep NWS’ operating costs competitive, as did an abundance of local low-cost raw material. NWS opened for business with financing from Alliance Bank, Mohawk Valley EDGE, MORECO, and Oneida County. Late in 2011, NWS reached capacity and consulted the SBDC about new capital to fuel its rapid growth. In March 2012, NWS won the EDGEccelerator competition, receiving $20,000 in cash and a $50,000 low interest loan. NWS, saw double digit growth in 2012, and expects to double production again in 2013.
(Advisor: David Lerman)
Red Castle Bakeries was founded in 1996 by Marco and Lucille Minuto. The Minutos started this business after Marco was laid off from a 15-year sales and marketing career with a beef patty company located in NYC. The two decided to start their own manufacturing and distributing company delivering beef patties throughout the Long Island and NYC region. They moved their growing business to Bayshore in 2007 and employed 25 local residents. Shortly after the expansion, Lucille was left a widow, and was faced a tough decision: sell the business or continue to run the operation with her sons. She felt compelled to keep the business running, because so many employees and her children were invested in the business. She and her son Marco continued to operate and work hard to preserve the business. In November Hurricane Sandy devastated Long Island and Red Castle was damaged by wind and water - compressors for refrigeration and freezer units were damaged, and production came to a halt due to a two-week power outage. The SBDC helped Lucille secure an SBA disaster loan, which will help replace destroyed equipment and the damaged roof.
(Advisor: Erica Chase)