Tag Archive | "BankNote Building"

Healthcare startups still struggling while the industry booms

The historic Banknote building in Hunts Point houses as many as eight healthcare startups in South Bronx. (SAHELI ROY CHOUDHURY / The Bronx Ink)

The historic Banknote Building in Hunts Point houses as many as eight healthcare startups in the South Bronx. (SAHELI ROY CHOUDHURY / The Bronx Ink)

In a cubicle on the second floor of the historic Banknote Building in Hunts Point, Thelvis Alston worked the phones one September afternoon, canvassing potential clients for the new data services startup he helps to run. Sector-Wide Health, which opened in January last year, has faced stiff competition from larger companies ever since the Affordable Care Act contributed to this growing economic sector in the borough.

The company has had a “difficult” start, said Alston, a 41-year-old Bronx native and vice president of operations.  Building a client base of doctors who want help digitizing their medical records has been “slow but steady.” Bronx’s healthcare industry has been on the upswing over the last five years. One reason for the mini-boom is the Affordable Care Act, which offers more medical access to more people throughout the borough. Between 2009 and 2013, the sector added nearly 5,000 new jobs in private hospitals, clinics, and other agencies. But the growth has not affected all businesses equally. Small businesses such as Sector-Wide Health have trouble breaking into a market face with so many larger healthcare organizations and agencies that are significantly better funded, like the Urban Health Plan for example.

Alston believes there is still an untapped need by doctors need to digitize their medical records to comply with new regulations for Medicaid and Medicare incentives under the Affordable Care Act. Sector-Wide Health are best situated to fill that need. Alston regularly meets with neighborhood doctors to identify what type of digitization software would work best for their practice. He then guides them through the transition process. “It’s about talking to doctors just to get them comfortable with the thought of where their business is going to go in the next ten years,” Alston said. Sector-Wide Health’s growing number of clients mainly include private practitioners and small clinics in the Bronx.

Joe Carrano, another Bronx native, remains upbeat about the prospects for healthcare outfits, both big and small, in the borough. “The industry is huge and healthcare technology is really growing here right now,” said the 25-year-old Carrano, who is director at the Bronx Business Incubator in Hunts Point. The incubator houses 66 start-ups and eight of them, including Sector-Wide Health, are in the business of providing healthcare and healthcare-related service.

Carrano believes the Bronx has more room for growth, for the healthcare and healthcare-related industry, than any other borough. Its close location to Manhattan and its relatively cheap real estate makes it attractive for investors, he said. The incubator provides startups with consultations, networking opportunities, and affordable office space. It has approximately 180 workspaces, comprising virtual offices, physical workstations, conference rooms, and meeting areas. “It’s up to entrepreneurs in the Bronx to shape the development of the business community,” said Carrano.

For Sector-Wide Health, the road ahead is uphill. It is still relatively new, has a comparatively low budget, and comprises a small team of employees. The Affordable Care Act, Alston believes, provided an important point of entry into the market. In order to survive against bigger, better-endowed competitors, the startup has to quickly carve out a niche area of service.

Some entrepreneurs believe the Affordable Care Act works against small businesses in an already saturated healthcare industry. One of them is Michael Harris, a registered nurse and owner of a startup called Transparency in Registered Nursing. His startup, founded in 2009, brings “high-tech nurses into the homes of patients” for both emergency treatments and long-term outpatient care. Harris believes the Act “drove out small businesses” that have no interest in doing business with the insurance plans that are part of the marketplace. Unless businesses sign up to be part of the marketplace, he said, they cannot exist within the healthcare ecosystem created by the Act.

Harris’ gripe with the Act boils down to “nine insurance companies in downtown New York State” that control the marketplace, and the participating hospitals and practitioners that provide “substandard treatment.” He said those are the main reasons why he did not sign his company up to be part of it. Harris would not specify which of the nine insurance companies he talks about but there are at least 16 participating in the Affordable Care Act marketplace in New York State. As a result, he now markets his services mainly to people who can afford insurance plans that offer “unbiased, out-of-network benefits.”

Alston does not share Harris’ skepticism and remains optimistic about the future for healthcare startups. He thinks opportunities and benefits created by the Affordable Care Act will eventually benefit small business outfits. “People will catch up,” he said with a smile.

Posted in Featured, Health, Southern BronxComments (0)

Incubating new businesses in Hunts Point

A rendering of the Sunshine Bronx reception area. Photo courtesy of Sunshine Suites

A rendering of the Sunshine Bronx reception area. Photo courtesy of Sunshine Suites

When Clarisel Gonzalez decided to expand her Mott Haven home-based new media business for journalists and local artists, she knew her hardest task would be finding office space she could afford.

Then, on Nov. 3, Gonzalez discovered Sunshine Bronx, a new city-funded venture that aims to provide affordable office space for 400 local entrepreneurs in Hunts Point’s newly renovated BankNote building. The program offers offices and desks for rent in the historic site, as well as on-site mentorship from successful business-owners to help fledgling new businesses in the Bronx build momentum.

Within five days of the ground breaking, Gonzalez became one of 60 applicants vying for space in the refurbished building which should be fully functional by February 2011. Cheni Yerushalmi, Sunshine Suites co-founder, said the response was “overwhelming but not surprising” due to what he sees as a lack of new business opportunities in the Bronx.

“People are hungry to be their own boss,” Gonzalez said.

Yerushalmi will take an active role in overseeing the activities and progress of the new Bronx “Shiners.”  A wide range of events and seminars will provide tenants with face-to-face access to veteran “Shiners” from Sunshine Suites’ offices in Tribeca and NoHo and give the rookie entrepreneurs opportunities to connect with successful Sunshine alumni and faculty members from Baruch College.

Entrepreneurs are enticed by the opportunity to expand their space and ingenuity. “I was drawn to Sunshine Bronx because if its location and because I really want to get my business out of my home and into an office,” Gonzalez said. “I also really enjoy the idea of networking opportunities because that’s what most of my business is about. It’s nice to have local support.”

Sunshine Bronx is the first business incubator in the borough, joining six others across the city since 2008. The incubator received a $250,000 grant from the New York City Economic Development Corporation, as did the other Sunshine Suites incubators.

“More than 15,000 new businesses were established in the Bronx in 2008,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the ground breaking. “We’re creating the Bronx business incubator to build on that momentum.”

With the help of Sunshine Bronx, Gonzalez aims to take her business from the pixelated computer screen and into real life, which is one of the aims of Sunshine Bronx.

The city began sponsoring the for-profit Sunshine Suites project ten years ago in other boroughs, as a way of boosting the local economy.

Many of the businesses cultivated in the Manhattan incubators have gone on to make millions and send workers back to mentor new business owners. Adobe, the creative computer program master, spent time in Sunshine Suites incubators as a start-up business.

Yerushalmi said that the Bronx was a natural choice for the next incubator, one of three that the city hopes to set up by the end of 2011.

A rendering of the Sunshine Bronx conference room. Photo courtesy of Sunshine Suites

A rendering of the Sunshine Bronx conference room. Photo courtesy of Sunshine Suites

“There’s 1.3 million people in the Bronx, but there’s a severe lack of resources for those who want to start their own businesses,” Yerushalmi said. “Sunshine has a great track record and with the help of Taconic Investment Partners, a Manhattan based real estate developer, we’ve been able to bring a great resource to the Bronx.”

In January 2008, Taconic Investment Management bought the historic BankNote building for $35 million from The Blauner family, which had owned it since the American Bank Note Co. left in 1985.  Taconic said its aim was to rent out space in the building that once printed currency and postage stamps to local community and arts organizations. Taconic Invesment Management signed a 10-year, low, rent-controlled lease with Sunshine.

Yerushalmi expects the 11,000-square-foot space to be self-sustaining within three years by renting out 180 work stations which are split between desks and co-working space for freelancers. Permanent desks rent for $295 a month while co-working stations go for $195 per month.

Sunshine Suites does background checks on all potential renters. Those who have criminal records are not offered space, but other than that there are no other renting requirements.

Gonzalez is looking into obtaining a permanent desk as a way to get out of her home and connect with more local entrepreneurs. “It’s such a great opportunity,” she said. “As soon as I heard about it I had to find out more.”

Cake Apparel Co. and Internet-based organic clothing company also expressed in moving in. Lorin Jones, the company’s marketing representative, said she was searching on Google for shared office space when she stumbled across a press release for Sunshine Bronx. “It looked like a great opportunity and I liked the location,” Jones said. Jones isn’t sure if she’s going to use the space. “I haven’t decided if we’re going to rent yet but it looks like a great way to take our business offline.” Cake Apparel has a large following in New York, Boston and Maryland and is based around the business model that organic clothing can be colorful and fun.

Yerushalmi said the biggest draw to these sites isn’t the cheap space, it’s the mentorship and networking opportunities, which is the aspect that most heavily drew Jones and Gonzalez. “Networking is very important to any business,” Yerushalmi said. “

And with Sunshine no one has to stay home with their cat.

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Money, Southern BronxComments (1)