Entrepreneurship Saves Lives – Literally Speaking

South Side Innovation Center

South Side Innovation Center

What if your city made the national news by having the highest rate of extreme poverty concentrated among blacks and Hispanics or is ranked the 8th highest violent crime rate in New York State? What about seeing your city top the list of having the lowest high school graduation rate in the State? My city is challenged with all of these factors and is using entrepreneurship as a solution to drive change.

No we are not talking about Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx. I am referring to an Upstate city that has less than 150,000 residents. Closer to the boarders of Canada than New York City. I am referring to my beloved city of Syracuse.

Driving up South Salina Street away from the downtown area you may notice abandon businesses, boarded up homes, and empty parking lots. But, don’t let these images fool you. You will also notice new development, vibrant barber shops and corner stores, active churches and temples, and community events taking place.

Pictures courtesy made available by South Side Innovation Center and Syracuse University

Pictures courtesy made available by South Side Innovation Center and Syracuse University

In the heart of Salina there stands a building that is uniquely different. A building that is full of activity, diversity, ideas and optimism. This location has been visited by politicians, chancellors, musicians, CEOs, professors and scholars. This building is known as the South Side Innovation Center (SSIC), a business incubator serving city residents.

SSIC is a critical business resource and important partner in neighborhood improvement,” said Robert Simpson, President of CenterState CEO. “While the center connects small and emerging companies to the resources, training and information they need to launch and grow, it also provides programming and services for neighborhood residents. Many of the companies incubated at the center are service or product oriented and residents can take advantage of job and skills training programming offered at the center.”

Walking into SSIC you immediately notice a transformational change. You are surrounded by entrepreneurs, startups, educators, nonprofit leaders and business advisors. The energy, look, feel and even language is different in this building. People of all different ages, ethnicity and economic background utilizes this facility every day.

El-Java Abdul-Qadir, Director of SSIC, describes the atmosphere being strategic, “We want to create a professional environment that fosters the entrepreneurial spirit. We are more than just a business incubator. For some, we are a partner in job creation and for others, we provide a pathway out of poverty.” El-Java sees his responsibility going beyond the consultant role, “Their desire to start a business is often tied to something more. Clients range from the retired worker who wants to leave something for their grandchildren, the former gang member who wants to make a positive impact, to the survivor of domestic violence who is ready to rise from the ashes.”

No one would expect that a business incubator would lead to transformational change in people’s lives. Providing advice to potential entrepreneurs have often turned into therapeutic counseling sessions. Often people entering SSIC with hopes of starting their own business leave with a new sense of direction and perspective of how they should live their life, and are now a part of a new fraternity of local entrepreneurs.

Hasan Stephens, Founder and Executive Director of Good Life Youth Foundation which operates out of the Center, suggest that SSIC and entrepreneurship education is help to save lives, connect them with individuals and organizations that will support their challenges. “Entrepreneurship is a mentality and way of life. For Good Life it’s about developing and mastering your innate craft or gift so you can take control of your future and design it how you want regardless of any social obstacles you might face. Entrepreneurship teaches you to be a problem solver, and what better way to solve the problem of poverty than to master that very skill set?”

Hasan Stephens, Executive Director of Good Life Youth Foundation facilitating an entrepreneurship youth program

Hasan Stephens, Executive Director of Good Life Youth Foundation facilitating an entrepreneurship youth program

SSIC is not the only business incubator in the city, but it is the only organization of its kind in Upstate New York that is centralized to serve the underrepresented residents of Syracuse living in the Southside. To many, the support and services offered at SSIC is a sign of hope and great possibilities that were once viewed as being unattained. Now with office space rentals reaching full capacity, strongly attended programs and continued group in new clients requesting services every day, perhaps entrepreneurship goes beyond business development, but also personal development.

Syracuse Councilman Khalid Bey believes SSIC is an invaluable resource to the neighborhood on the south side, and to the business ecosystem of the city. He goes on the say, “SSIC provides an environment where innovation is witnessed and dreams are realized. Which is extremely important given that the community environment is often plagued with negative images, news and a feeling of hopelessness for many residents.”

Business incubators in Syracuse New York:

South Side Innovation Center: The South Side Innovation Center provides services and facilities to current and emerging entrepreneurs & businesses in Syracuse, NY. Our services include office space and equipment, intensive hands-on training and counseling, roundtables, networking, classroom courses, business plan development, access to loans, marketing assistance, and help in opening markets – all in an energized environment of entrepreneurial activity. SSIC’s mission is to increase the strength and size of the area economy by helping a diverse group of emerging and mature businesses reach their potential size and profitability.

The Technology Garden: The Tech Garden is the Northeast’s premier entrepreneurial ecosystem, providing comprehensive support for turning great ideas into high-growth businesses. Our unique approach fuses the best aspects of technology incubators and business accelerators, creating the ideal home for nurturing entrepreneurial visions.

Syracuse Center of Excellence: SyracuseCoE is a collaborative organization that accelerates development of innovations for a sustainable future. As New York State’s Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems, we engage more than 200 private companies, organizations, and academic institutions to create new products and services in indoor environmental quality, clean and renewable energy, and water resource management.

Central New York Biotech Accelerator: The Central New York Biotech Accelerator’s mission is to incubate and accelerate partnerships that create innovative products for the bioscience marketplace. CNYBAC offers the newest biotech lab and office space, provides business acceleration services – from early-stage formation through commercialization – and contact with mentors to assist in your business success. The Accelerator is a joint venture of Upstate Medical University and the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Syracuse Student Sandbox: Each semester, student entrepreneurs from all around the world bring their big ideas and spend a semester surrounded by the facilities, funding, and professional coaches that promote and accelerate ideation, development, and execution. The experiential program aims to produce revenue-generating entities or investment-ready firms. As part of the Raymond von Dran Innovation and Disruptive Entrepreneurship Accelerator (IDEA) at Syracuse University, the iSchool-sponsored Sandbox is a unique partnership with the local business community and other institutions, continually helping to enrich the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Syracuse and Upstate New York.

Syracuse CoWorks: The ideal environment to spark ideas and develop new businesses ventures. Whether you’re an independent consultant, freelancer, or telecommuter, coworking allows you to network with like-minded professionals without committing to a long-term lease. *Coworking is a style of work that involves a shared working environment, often an office, and independent activity. Unlike in a typical office environment, those coworking are usually not employed by the same organization.