Just as a sequoia will grow tall and mighty in the right climate and environmental conditions, new businesses need a supportive ecosystem in order to survive – and thrive. In recent years, the Pocono Mountains Region has built a reputation as an entrepreneurial hotbed – particularly for new businesses focused on science, technology and other innovative and growing economic sectors. This owes to the region's educated workforce, top-notch transportation network, low costs, and an abundance of public and private institutions focused on nurturing new enterprises.
“We help new businesses focus on the whole picture of what they need to succeed,” says Michael Gildea, director of East Stroudsburg University’s Business Accelerator. “We address issues such as product development, sales strategy, the competitive landscape and raising capital to support your new business. Beyond that, we can help put the entrepreneur in touch with other businesses that can offer assistance and even become potential customers.”
ESU’s Business Accelerator works closely with other area resources, including ESU’s own Entrepreneurial Leadership Center.
“Some entrepreneurs come to us with very well-developed ideas and plans – others are not quite as cohesive," says Gerald Ephault, interim director, Business Accelerator Research and Economic Development. “We don’t turn anyone away.”
One important resource is Poconos Mountains Angel Network. This group of investors scouts for worthwhile opportunities in which to invest – whether at the seed or startup phase, in early business stages, during expansion, and enterprise maturity. With such investor funding, a company can more likely achieve the milestones set out in a business plan. The Accelerator’s first client company was Backbone Security, now in its 15th year. It is the industry leader in digital steganalysis (message analysis) and information security for financial transactions. Workers, too, are helped by these initiatives, says Sharone Glasco, ESU’s director of Workforce Development.
“State and local resources assist people in obtaining jobs with these new enterprises, retraining for new industries as well as incentives for businesses to hire displaced workers,” she notes.
Big Impact on Small Business
For the past 35 years, the University of Scranton’s Small Business Development Center has helped aspiring entrepreneurs get off the ground – and small businesses grow bigger. It assists a wide range of service businesses in addition to technology enterprises.
“The influx of new residents in the Pocono Mountains Region has created a demand for day care centers, dry cleaners and new restaurants, to name just a few examples,” says Keith Yurgosky, a senior business development consultant at the center, whose service area includes Monroe, Pike and Wayne counties.
In particular, the SBDC guides such business in uses of technology, with a strong focus on mobile marketing.
“Ten years ago, you built a website and people came to it,” Yurgosky notes. “Now people use their phones or tablets to read reviews on Yelp and Angie’s List. We show businesses how to ensure they come up through a search and how to use reviews to improve customer service.”
For manufacturing businesses, the SBDC is affiliated with a facility at Bucknell University in Central Pennsylvania for building prototypes, refining production processes and pursuing a patent. Mature businesses aren’t left out of the picture: The SBDC helps them revamp products, market to new customer groups and enhance their sales methods.
“On a yearly basis we assist approximately 600 businesses,” Yurgosky says. “Another 600 to 700 people attend seminars and informational sessions at the SBDC.”
Small Community, Large Agenda
Such resources aren’t confined to the cities in the Poconos. Honesdale (pop. 5,000) is home to the Wayne County Stourbridge Project, named for the 1829 Stourbridge Lion, America’s first steam locomotive. Located in a former elementary school, this young facility is run in combination with the Wayne County Economic Development Corporation (WEDCO).
“This is the first business incubator to be located in a small, rural town,” says Troy Bystrom, marketing and business development director for WEDCO.
The center provides training in business development, as well as a free “co-working space” with access to a super-high-speed Internet connection, conventional and three-dimensional printing tools, and other resources. By gathering budding entrepreneurs under one roof, the Stourbridge Project aims to foster collaboration.
"Centers such as ours help such entrepreneurs to connect with each other,” Bystrom says. “Pennsylvania really likes the model we’ve created here and is seriously looking to replicate it statewide.”