Niagara Falls business incubator TReC makes the climb for new entrepreneurs much easier

TReC, a new business incubator and coworking space in downtown Niagara Falls, hopes to replicate the successful efforts business incubators in Buffalo have made in launching new startups. Patrick Whalen, director of the Niagara Global Tourism Institute and the operator of TReC, which opened late last year, explains that the name TReC is inspired by the experience of climbing Mount Everest.

“[Around] 1,200 people a year try to climb Mount Everest,” he notes. “Only half make it. At the same time, everybody's got this notion that 50% of all new businesses fail in the first five years. If you look at those who do make it, both up the mountain and in business, they all have guidance.”

Niagara University is a major funder of the NGTI, and through that organization, pays for the salaries of Whalen and his associate, NGTI Assistant Director Roscoe Naguit. “Entrepreneurship is one of NGTI’s four pillars, and we are hell-bent on becoming financially self-sufficient,” says Whalen. “The other pillars are technology, work force training, and research. For the last year, our focus has been TReC, which embodies entrepreneurship: raising money to get it built, opened and populated.”

One of the ways TReC accomplished that, raising $150,000—one third each from the City of Niagara Falls, the New York Power Authority and Destination Niagara USA—was installing free Wi-Fi in downtown Niagara Falls, which generates ad revenue.

Following the climbing theme, TReC’s business mentors are called sherpas, after the legendary guides who accompany climbers up Mount Everest. Whalen and his partners choose sherpas based on their accomplishments. Currently there are 22 on the roster. Whalen’s aiming for a diverse group of 50.

“We have to do something about encouraging female entrepreneurship,” he says. “One way to do that is make sure that coaches and mentors—and sherpas in our case—reflect the people they’re working with. There’s a better chance of emotionally connecting that way.”

Whalen launched TReC because he believes the business climate in Upstate New York makes it difficult to attract new businesses and investment from outside the state. “Things like high taxes and stifling regulation keep out-of-state investment away,” he says. “Take Niagara Falls, New York. Outside of Canadians, who invest here because of proximity, the only private investment in projects like new hotels recently have come from within New York State. This situation, where so many other places are more attractive than New York State for outsiders, is one of the things that causes slow, if any growth.”

The solution has to be found within, in that case. “Those who want to live here—people like me, who aren’t leaving—must create new businesses to employ workers and grow the local economy,” he says. He wants TReC to create an entrepreneurial community in the Cataract City, much like the one in Buffalo.

TReC’s offerings include 24/7 access to its coworking spaces, at rates ranging from $100 to $160 a month, depending on your needs and the amenities you seek. ($65/month will get you “just a mailing address,” so you can receive both mail and parcels). The next tiers include the shared office spaces and community, plus Wi-Fi, access to TReC sherpas, four hours of conference room time, free coffee, and free on-site programs and events.

Nicholas Hurd, CEO and tour director of Niagara Falls Adventure Tours, is definitely feeling like part of a community, and benefitting from the space and services that Whalen and TReC provide. “TReC helped me go from being an employee/tour guide at another company, to helping fulfill my dream of owning my own business—and understanding how to actually run it,” says Hurd. “Also, a lot of other people who are in the tourism industry are involved at TReC, either as members or as sherpas. That’s helped me to build a network very quickly, and given me access to people I needed to meet with.”

TReC offers free educational seminars for members and others who want to learn about entrepreneurship. Goldberg Segalla, an international law firm with offices across Western New York will sponsor some of the events. (An online calendar is coming soon.)

Whalen believes that when entrepreneurs can share their challenges and ideas with others, the journey is easier. “Most people who aren't entrepreneurs don't understand that starting a business is hard,” he says. “If you're not in a sympathetic environment, it can be lonely and isolating. I was fortunate that I went through UB’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership; I had 12 classmates that I could talk to.”

Hurd seconds that emotion, noting that there is great camaraderie and a supportive environment at TReC. “At TReC, whenever I’ve asked for guidance or to run an idea by someone—sherpa or member—I’ve gotten good advice from a different point of view,” he says. “And, I now see this core group of people, who are doing similar things, at events outside of TReC. They also watch out for you. The other day, I wasn’t at TReC, and a friend identified a connection for me: someone who just walked in. It’s like I was networking without even being there!”

616 Niagara Street
Niagara Falls, N.Y. 14303

Read more articles by Jeff Dahlberg.

Jeff Dahlberg is a freelance writer and the author of “Not Just Snow and Chicken Wings: Positive Stories About Buffalo’s Rebirth.” He was born and raised in Western New York. A University at Buffalo and Second City graduate, he longs for the day when both the Bills win a Super Bowl and the Sabres win a Stanley Cup.
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