GENEVA — The next operator of the city’s co-working space sees a broader vision for the Castle Street site: an entrepreneurial support program.
Maureen Ballatori, owner of the 29 Design marketing company and a founding member of Port 100, which opened in 2017, wants the city and Port 100 to work in partnership to foster startups as part of an effort to create jobs for all socioeconomic levels in the city.
Her company has done just that. Ballatori’s 29 Design firm went to Port 100 three years ago and now has five full-time employees, with plans to hire two more by the end of the year.
She attended last week’s City Council meeting to pitch continued financial support for Port 100 and also to propose what she called a public-private partnership with the city to create and run an Entrepreneurial Support Program at the co-working site.
“The Entrepreneurial Support Program will provide low-cost office space to entrepreneurs and members of the business community and offer robust programming to support entrepreneurs of the city of Geneva and beyond,” she told Council.
The goal, she said, is to “create programming for budding entrepreneurs that helps solve challenges faced by startups and members of the business community. Port 100’s Entrepreneurial Support Program will offer events that address those challenges one by one.”
Some of that is already being done, Ballatori pointed out.
She noted that Port 100 events have included a social media marketing workshop, a program on tax issues for small businesses and a session on how to write a business plan.
Dave Linger, president of the Geneva Business Improvement District and owner of the Castle Street building that Port 100 operates out of, said the city’s support of Port 100 is essential to Geneva economic development efforts.
Calling Port 100 a “jewel,” Linger reminded Council last week it was those members — save one new councilor, Dana Hollenbeck — who gave the go-ahead for the co-working site to become reality.
“You folks saw a reason for that to exist,” he said. “That has not changed. Everybody should be in favor of entrepreneurial initiative. Everyone should be in favor of potential drivers of economic growth. … This Council should continue the good work it has started.”
Ballatori has asked for $17,000 under the city’s partner-agency allocations for 2020.
She noted that the city’s operational costs were as high as $25,000 annually in previous years.
“We are proposing to continue operations and expand entrepreneurship development programming for a 2020 allocation of $17,000,” she said in the proposal, explaining it would be used for heat and electric, key-card access, printer costs, rent support and marketing costs.
However, under the proposed budget, the city administration is recommending a $9,000 allocation. Another Council budget discussion is set for today at 5 p.m.
“Essentially, the reduction they made to allocate $9,000 in the 2020 budget will help us pay the rent, but we’ll still operate at a deficit,” Ballatori said.
However, if funding remains at $9,000, the entrepreneurial-support expansion will continue at Port 100, she emphasized.
“My agency (29 Design Studio) will cover the loss at Port 100 and execute the programming as planned,” she said. “We believe in the benefits that Port 100 has for the entrepreneurial community in the Finger Lakes and believe it to be an economic development necessity for the region.”
Assuming no change in city support coming under the 2020 budget, which could get adopted as early as Wednesday, Ballatori plans to come back to Council next year for additional funding for Port 100.
Assistant City Manager Adam Blowers said Monday that the administration had not seen Ballatori’s proposal for Port 100 but issued a statement Tuesday on behalf of the city:
“When Port 100 was created a few years ago, the intent was to help incubate small businesses that needed a jump start,” said Blowers. “We still support that initiative and hope to make Geneva a great place for people to grow their business. The progress that Port 100 has achieved has made that a success.”