You won’t get far into a conversation with Kevin Chamberlain, owner of Upstate Coffee in Gloversville, before you discover that a key part of his business strategy is collaboration. Gloversville turned out to be the perfect place for Chamberlain to launch and grow his company, and he is taking full advantage of the startup ecosystem that exists in the Gloversville area.
Even before he decided to open his own business, Chamberlain partnered with Mohawk Harvest Cooperative Market, where he began roasting coffee beans for the co-op’s café. “The co-op was the perfect unique opportunity to be able to try new things, learn more about the industry, be engaged in the community, and hear people’s opinions on things,” Chamberlain said.
When he got ready to start Upstate Coffee, Chamberlain joined the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce. “They’ve helped me with guidance on my business line when I was really just hashing out the idea,” he said, noting that the chamber prepared him to work with the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth (CRG).
The CRG serves new and existing businesses as a clearinghouse of sorts, working with everyone from solopreneurs to large multinational corporations to facilitate and grow business in the county. The staff has a vast toolbox of resources and easily assesses those that would best help a business succeed.
In Chamberlain’s case, the CRG helped him obtain a $25,000 microenterprise grant.
That allowed me to jumpstart everything.
Pediatric dentist Jake Fried, who chose Gloversville as the location for his solo practice, Primary Teeth Pediatric Dentistry, also worked with the CRG to obtain a microenterprise grant that helped with the interior renovation of the building he rents, which required gutting the place. Dr. Fried’s current location has the added advantage of space for expansion right in the same building for when his business grows.
The CRG points business owners to other sources of funding also, whether that means connecting them with local bankers or suggesting loans or grants for which they might be eligible. Dr. Fried received a loan under the CARES Act, administered by the Mohawk Valley Economic Development District, Inc. Chamberlain took advantage of a loan from the Gloversville Loan Fund.
This loan was especially helpful for Dr. Fried, who had to delay the opening of his business because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than a 2020 start, he was forced to wait until April 2021 to open his doors to patients.
The CRG also has close ties with the New York Business Development Corporation that offers business training and microloans to entrepreneurs and small business owners through its Small Enterprise Economic Development program. Other funding sources—loans or a hybrid of loans and grants–include the Community Loan Fund, Gloversville Economic Development Corporation, and Pursuit, a community-focused lender.
It is easy to find a place to begin in the substantial startup ecosystem with the CRG’s guidance.
“Ken Adamczyk and his supervisor, Ron Peters, were invaluable assets to getting my practice started,” according to Dr. Fried. “They gave me connections within the town. They went with me to the various locations that I was looking at. They provided their insights and their experience,” Dr. Fried said, noting that he was largely unfamiliar with Fulton County because he came from the Westchester area before working in the central Capital District.
The CRG keeps an up-to-date list of available buildings and shovel-ready sites so that a company looking to locate in the county does not have to search them out. It also has office and incubator space in its building. “Along with this, many developers adopting an adaptive reuse model are incorporating coworking space into their operations,” said James Hannahs, the Gloversville Downtown Development Specialist at the CRG. “Currently, the Gloversville Public Library serves as a perfect starting point for equity-restricted startups.”
Another important part of the startup ecosystem is the area’s educational institutions, which include Hamilton Fulton Montgomery (HFM) BOCES, Fulton Montgomery Community College, and the Advanced Institute for Manufacturing (AIM) at Mohawk Valley Community College (MVCC) in Utica. There are programs at these institutions that focus on workforce development, catering to the needs of the region’s businesses.
Chamberlain has had interns from the PTECH program at HFM BOCES. “I really like having the interns because through PTECH, they find students that are a good fit,” he said. “Faculty comes in and assesses what I’m doing and what I need, and then they find the appropriate candidate or candidates. That makes hiring an intern much easier and also sets the internship up for success.”
Chamberlain involves his interns in all aspects of the business so that they get a well-rounded experience. “When they leave, they really know a lot about e-commerce and small business,” he said. “Because they’re a good fit, they learn really fast because they’re interested, and they’re helpful right away. Having the local interns coming from PTECH is a really great community support system.”
The business climate and culture of Gloversville and other Fulton County cities and towns is one of cooperation, support, and collaboration. Business owners routinely network and team up to help each other’s business. Chamberlain works with Mitch Rogers of Rogers Family Orchards and Matt Sherman of Stump City Brewing. “We work together a lot and just kind of work things out,” Chamberlain said. “It’s really important to get connected with like-minded business owners to work out ideas and problems, vent, and have a good time with it all.”
Really, what it comes down to is: Don’t do it solo. Create a team. Create business friendships and have mentors.
Chamberlain cites the new location for his roastery as an example. The space already had gas lines, electrical outlets where he needed them, good lighting, a floor drain, and a ventilation system that vented through the roof—everything he needed in a space. “I would not have been able to find that without having a team, the CRG, and having business relationships,” he said.
Other “team members” come from his years as a student. His former academic advisor serves as a mentor, and some friends from college who now create websites professionally showed him how to have a good website created in the most cost-effective way. “Instead of just going and hiring a big firm for $100,000 to make a website, they taught me how to utilize some online resources and connected me to the right people to do the job really, really well and reasonably priced,” he said.
From the idea stage all the way through business opening and beyond, the CRG connects businesses with the resources in the startup ecosystem that help them thrive. Upstate Coffee and Primary Teeth Pediatric Dentistry are just two examples. “I think people are unaware of how helpful the CRG can be,” Chamberlain said.
I think a lot of business owners are flying solo when they could really benefit from the things that the CRG offers.
This ecosystem of resources and assistance in accessing them makes people want to do business in Fulton County. “I love being an owner of my own practice,” said Dr. Fried. “I love treating the children in the county. Everyone is so appreciative and grateful that I’m here, and everyone has been extremely helpful. We are proud to be here serving all the children of Fulton County and beyond, and we look forward to a very long and healthy relationship going forward.”