Building Up Small Businesses in Brooklyn

Andrew Kimball, CEO of New York’s Brooklyn Navy Yard, knows the power of business incubators.

He is responsible for a 300-acre industrial park on the banks of New York’s East River, which serves as an incubator for over 200 tenants. It’s run in partnership with the city government, and its goal is to grow business and grow jobs.

“Over and over again, you see businesses in the Navy Yard that come in with 2,000 square feet, 5,000 square feet, fewer than five employees and then grow slowly to 10,000, 20,000; we’ve had a couple of them go now to over 100,000 square feet,” he said.

Business incubators are designed to accelerate the successful development of small businesses by offering them support services and resources, and no two of them look the same.

They all seek to give businesses a head-start, but each one accomplishes this with its own unique package of programs and benefits, and each one appeals to its own mix of different industries.

One of Brooklyn Navy Yard’s tenants is Miranda Magagnini. She is co-owner of IceStone, a high-end countertop manufacturer that makes products from recycled glass.

“The Navy Yard is a very friendly landlord and they’ve been very supportive of us at every step of the way,” Magagnini said. She and her business partner started their business at the Navy Yard five years ago.

“Oh, we were definitely a start up back then,” she said. Because of the complexity of combing glass and concrete, she explained that it’s taken several years and millions of dollars to make the company commercially viable.

Entrepreneurs like Magagnini have found that incubators like the Brooklyn Navy Yard support the growth of their fledging businesses in several specific ways, from guaranteeing long-term leases to special tax incentives, she said.

“The Navy Yard gave us kind of a running start with a very favorable lease initially so we could kind of get the company going. That’s been a really good situation for us,” she added.

Kimball notes that tenants within the Navy Yard often end up doing business with each other and that his staff occasionally plays match-maker.

“Our leasing staff is always thinking about, well, you know this tenant should know about that tenant,” he said. “A lot of it happens organically, with them just running into each other in the hallways. We have a tenant mixer every year.”

That’s just what happened recently, when Magagnini needed to design a new kind of shipping crate. She approached her Navy Yard neighbor Kevin McElroy, who works at an industrial design company called Green Matter.

“IceStone came to us because they’ve been building all of their own shipping crates and they were having issues of the crates breaking,” McElroy explained, adding that the crates were not only breaking, they were also breaking their products, which is even worse.

“We went to them because we knew that they had an industrial design company that was green and we said, ‘We’re having a huge problem with breakage with our slabs. We ship them in perfect condition, but they don’t arrive in perfect condition,’” Magagnini added.

For McElroy, the Navy Yard has provided many opportunities for networking. As a relatively new business, he’s found this to be very helpful. Like Magagnini, he often looks to the neighboring businesses at the Navy Yard when he needs advice or sourcing.

“If we want to get a part made, we can literally jump on the elevator and go up to the eighth floor and say, ‘Hey, what do you think of this?’ or, ‘Do you know anybody that does this?’” McElroy said.

Magagnini looks forward to the day when she can expand her business beyond the walls of her Navy Yard incubator.

“I would say we would look to build other facilities around the country, but right now we’re just making this little boat float right here,” Magagnini said.

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