Green Spaces is bringing eco-friendly entrepreneurs together to pool resources and ideas.
November 20, 2009 1:51 PM
By Joyce Hanson
Gordon Sims of Denim Therapy spends his work days buried under stacks of old, faded and torn blue jeans that customers have mailed in to be stitched up.
“We're at capacity,” the operations manager said from under the latest pile of jeans, noting that Denim Therapy has hired a seamstress in Queens and recently opened a small shop in Manhattan's garment district to keep up with the demand for repairs.
Mr. Sims shares his space at 394 Broadway with a seemingly odd assortment of other businesses. They include the Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Organization (IREO), which brokers renewable energy deals between countries in the developing world and the private sector; and Gotham Greens, which farms a 10,000-square-foot sustainable rooftop greenhouse in Queens, thanks to $1 million from private investors and a $400,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
What these startups all share in this 5,300-square-foot TriBeCa loft called Green Spaces is an interest in doing environmentally sound business and ensuring their companies' success. It's a place where like-minded entrepreneurs can pool resources and ideas. And it's an incubator model that looks a lot like the one that has worked for dot-com startups since the 1990s.
“It's trendy. There are a bunch of new green incubators trying to get started all over New York City,” said Stefan Doering, a green business coach and instructor teaching environmental entrepreneurialism at Columbia's Center for Environmental Research and Conservation. Mr. Doering served as an unpaid consultant to Green Spaces a couple of years ago. “Someone who knows he has a cool idea, but not a business mind … will be much more successful inside an incubator than if he does it on his own.”
A rental ranges in price from $550 a month for a full-time private space to $35 per day for drop-ins sharing an open work area. Services include a conference room, an intern program, newsletter advertising and recommendations for companies that provide bookkeeping, accounting, marketing, graphic design, and technology and sustainability consulting assistance.
Green Spaces founder Jennie Nevin originated the incubator a few years ago in Brooklyn, on Flatbush Avenue, but it moved to Manhattan on Sept. 1 when the incubator couldn't come to terms with the landlord on a new lease, according to co-founder Marissa Feinberg. When the move was announced, she said, a majority of the incubator's 35 businesses decided to strike out independently, and the rest headed with Green Spaces to TriBeCa. The incubator now rents to 15 startups and hopes to sign on 25 more.
“Everything's tight, so you have to maximize the dollars,” said Green Spaces' partner Roberto Rhett, a reformed finance guy and do-it-yourselfer who one recent morning could be found mopping the floor, pitching potential tenants, and building a new cabinet with reclaimed wood.
A former A.G. Edwards consultant and Ernst & Young internal auditor, Mr. Rhett said Green Spaces is self-funded but hopes to bring in money from outside investors and the city and state. Between now and March, he predicted, Green Spaces should see its greatest growth period. He expects it to be fully occupied by June 2010.
The new space reflects the incubator's ideals, with 100% wind power-generated electricity, reused office furniture and MSi computers that run on 80% less energy than conventional PCs. In the coming months, Green Spaces hopes to implement a composting system and a community supported agriculture partnership.
But while a tremendous amount of positive energy is being brought to Green Spaces, business history suggests that many of these startups may fail.
Incubators in general have received “mixed reviews,” said Jeffrey Carr, a professor at the Berkley Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at NYU's Stern School of Business.
“Incubators were really popular during the Internet boom,” Mr. Carr noted. “It was a big business model then, but now most of those are not around anymore, because most of those companies failed. The argument is that for companies that need subsidizing—whether that's low rent or other lower costs in the beginning—incubators are probably not the thing that will put them over the hump.”
Still, when it comes to creative energy and new ideas, the visionary entrepreneurs of incubators like Green Spaces certainly have the will to succeed.
A few desks down from Gotham Greens and IREO sits Xiomara Smith, who runs nonprofit Greenworks Community Development Corporation, a firm that promotes sustainability in low-income areas of Central Brooklyn.
“If it wasn't for Green Spaces, I wouldn't be able to do what I do,” Ms. Smith said, noting that the incubator has given her access to a business network she wouldn't have connected with otherwise.