‘I knew this was for us’

NJCU business incubator offers different deal for entrepreneurs

Micro-business centers in Hudson County, especially in Jersey City and Hoboken, often impose a financial hardship on the emerging entrepreneur. They are places full of small offices that entrepreneurs can rent, but they also have to pay for copies, the use of meeting rooms, and other business functions above and beyond the rent of a work space.
Vicky Llerena was born and raised in Jersey City. When she and her partner first opened their media business in 2014 they rented a basement apartment in Bayonne and renovated it in hopes of establishing an inexpensive workplace until they could get their company off the ground.
In the modern world, businesses can operate nearly anywhere using wi-fi and other connectivity. But there were times when she and her partner needed to meet face to face with clients. They soon discovered that clients were not impressed with their Bayonne basement.
A graduate of New Jersey City University in 2008 with a major in journalism and master’s degree in political science in 2010, Llerena went to work at PR Newswire, Univision WXTV, and Hudson Media Group. She also worked as part-time adjunct professor in media and communications.

“I was so excited to be a part of this community.” – Vicky Llerena
After a few years, she decided to step away from corporate employment and officially launch her own business. She and her partner offer “content creation” services, an umbrella that includes public relations, copy writing, content marking, and helping companies expand their social media footprint.
“I got tired of the mundane,” she said. “I wanted to do something that did not involve being in an office nine to five every day. It took me a year to save enough so I could quit my job.”
Soon the affordable Bayonne location just wasn’t working. She and her partner debated whether to move to one of the popular micro-business centers when she happened upon a location elsewhere in Jersey City. While attending a theater performance at New Jersey City University she noticed that they had a business center at their West Side Avenue location a few blocks from the West End station of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail.

A special place for emerging businesses

There are nearly 10 million female-owned businesses in the United States, she said. While men still own more businesses than women, female-owned businesses have grown at a rate of four times that of male-owned businesses. She also pointed out that Jersey City is a booming community that offers small businesses like hers opportunities for the future.
She found that New Jersey City University’s Business Development Incubator (BDI) differed in many ways from other centers.
Designed to help businesses like hers, the organization offers entrepreneurs leasing space and business support specialists. The center has chosen a carefully-screened group of media companies to receive exclusive aid in their attempts to get off the ground. There are no per-copy costs. There are no additional charges for use of professional meeting space.
Funded by a U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant, the program allows the BDI to leverage its considerable assets, expertise, and relationships with economic development agencies to provide business development services to the entrepreneurs and support the development of film, media and communication industries in Hudson County.
The term “incubator” is very real. Small businesses get five years to establish themselves then must find other space. An alumnus of NJCU, Llerena saw this as the opportunity she needed. Deciding to apply for the program, she said she felt she met their criteria in a number of ways.
“I knew this was for us. I began the application process the next day. I was so excited to be a part of this community. The BDI offered all the support I would need.” Llerena is taking this opportunity to allow her business to flourish by working with business experts at the BDI.
“She has established an outstanding rapport with the Small Business Development Center at NJCU,” says Alycea Nightingale, a business consultant at NJCU’s BDI. “Her ability to get work done through our service recommendations has been outstanding. Mrs. Llerena is highly respected by our staff, her clients, other government agencies, and the people who work under her supervision.”
Business people from around Hudson County and elsewhere use this space.
Allister Liberato of NovoFex, a web development company, has been at the BDI for several years. He started out in one of the smaller work spaces and as they put on more people, they moved to a larger space.
“We started with two people,” said Liberato. He comes from outside Hudson County, but his partner hails from Union City. Now they have a team of about eight people and have moved to a larger room.
The average cost for commercial micro office space can run from about $800 to a $1,000 a month. The NJCU site rents for between $400 to $550 with none of the extra costs.
“This gives time for start up businesses like mine to grow,” said Llerena.
“To qualify for the program, a startup must present a proposal that covers everything about the business from A to Z,” she said. “What is your business plan? How your startup differs from your competition. How do you expect to grow the business over the next five years?”
Although only in her office since January, Llerena said the move has made a huge difference.
“This is a professional space, and it says something about our business when we meet with clients, rather than meeting in a basement or a coffee shop.”
She said the business center offers a reception room, meeting rooms, even space for other public functions.
“We expect to graduate from this space in five years,” she said. “But this is an incubator that allows us to grow. We hired our first employee and former intern, Sami Saad, as soon as he finished his BA at NJCU.”
She said this is a vital program in Hudson County that most people do not know about.
“We want to help attract other media companies and women-owned businesses into the BDI,” she said.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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