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In 2008, Cadmona Hall and Heather Hay were completing their PhDs in Marriage and Family Therapy at Syracuse University. Their decision to choose Syracuse for their academic studies would result in a life-changing friendship and business. Hall and Hay became close friends while working at Hospice of Central NY, where their collaboration sparked an unexpected idea.
Hay realized after a joint presentation that they were meant to work together: “We have great synergy, a great presenting partnership and strong friendship. That was the first kernel of the business idea being planted and it took a little while before we got things into motion.”
After their graduation, the two continued discussing their fledgling business concept.
“We talked through the idea of doing this together professionally and what we are most passionate about, which is grief and loss and reaching out to others,” recounts Hall. “We started to think about how to put things into place strategically to develop an official, legitimate business. We ended up birthing this business in separate locations and I think that is a testament to our relationship.”
Together Hay and Hall decided to launch Hall & Hay Consulting Associates in 2010. At the time, Hall was pursuing a full-time faculty position in Chicago and Hay had stayed in Syracuse for a clinical position. Starting a business in separate locations, in addition to their full-time jobs, encouraged Hay and Hall to grow the business in ways they didn’t initially anticipate.
The partners found just the right source of business assistance in Joanne Lenweaver, director of the WISE Women’s Business Center in downtown Syracuse. With Lenweaver’s guidance, the partners were able to avoid early errors in setting up their operations and develop a business model that worked for their unique needs and goals. Structuring a consulting startup where Hay and Hall’s time is the product required a careful balance with their existing professional positions and busy personal lives. Unlike other businesses that have easily quantifiable products, as consultants they had to get comfortable selling themselves in a transparent way to their clients.
Hay and Hall continue to get counseling from WISE: “We find it to be such a helpful resource when we are at a crossroads and we need a different perspective or additional information. Graduate school taught us to be great researchers, educators and clinicians, but Joanne’s business mentoring and support is instrumental,” says Hay.
Today, the business offers presentations and trainings, program design and development, consultations, and organizational assessments for grief, trauma and loss issues. Mental health professionals are the mainstay of H&H Consulting’s client base, since grief counseling is often an area of minimal clinical training and education. The company’s trauma and loss services have been highly sought after from organizations as well, from corporate human resource departments to K-12 school district staff and students. For 2014, Hay and Hall are focusing on improving their company website, building a new social media platform, creating new written resources for grief and loss, and offering new services and training programs. The partners have been invited to present on several new topics this year, including wellness and prevention, sociocultural trauma, and the public health issue of Alzheimer’s disease and its impact on family members.
Presentations are what inspired Hay and Hall from the very beginning to go into business together, and are where they work best in tandem. With technology, travel and teamwork as part of their business model, the 600-mile separation offers no obstacle for Hall and Hay to make their unexpected business successful. Their consulting partnership’s strength is the very thing that started their business in the first place: an enduring friendship.
“We’re really great friends as well as a strong business team, which makes working together really enjoyable and entertaining,” says Hall. “Knowing each other well enough to be able to have difficult conversations around our strengths, our growth areas and how we may need to divide responsibilities set the stage for us to be successful.”
In 2001, Syracuse native Tina Corso was a real estate agent who also enjoyed getting creative in the kitchen. The aroma of her freshly baked shortbread cookies made Tina’s open houses all the more alluring. At the time, Tina’s fiancé Peter Hess had previously run a dot-com business in Manhattan and was in Syracuse looking for a new position through a head hunter. Tina created a hand-decorated cookie bouquet as a thank you gift for the head hunter, who was so delighted that she wanted to order Tina’s cookie bouquets for all of her clients. Tina and Peter launched the startup business from their home that same year, with Tina making and decorating the cookies and Peter handling the marketing and accounting roles. After less than one year in business, Corso’s Cookies had to move from their home’s kitchen to a 500-square-foot rental space in Solvay, just outside of Syracuse, NY.
“Tina made a cookie that people fell in love with, and I realized this was amazing and it was just a matter of figuring out how to sell it. I turned to my friend Trevor Whiting, the third partner in the business, to build us a website. We quickly formed strategic partnerships with some companies that were already in the gift business. It was a natural for them to sell our product to their customers. Our philosophy was at the beginning and still is today to make a great product and let someone else sell it,” explains Peter. “You want to focus on what you’re good at. That’s where some businesses fail-they try to do everything themselves instead of looking for the right partnerships.”
Partnerships took the startup cookie company to the next level of success: their first contract was to fill 20 orders a day, at a time when Corso’s was only fulfilling 20 a week. For the company’s first Valentine’s Day on their partner’s website in 2003, orders came pouring in at a rate of 20 an hour. With just three employees on staff, Peter and Tina had to scramble to fill hundreds of orders on time, leaving the bakery only for quick showers and to mail orders. The experience was a steep learning curve for Peter and Tina, and once the holiday orders were shipped, they set about planning to hire more staff to accommodate their company’s growing production demands.
By the third year, the couple had expanded the bakery to double their production area to 1,100-square-feet. In the fourth year, the bakery was no longer large enough for their needs and Peter and Tina started looking for a new location. Their plan was to find a building in Solvay to take advantage of the town’s lower electric rates, since the business has to run air conditioning, freezers and ovens simultaneously. After months of searching, Peter found the perfect site in an empty 13,000-square-foot building located right off of State Fair Boulevard in Lakeland. Peter and Tina were able to buy the building with the partnership of HSBC and the Greater Syracuse Business Development Corporation (GSBDC) through the SBA’s 504 loan program. The company stayed in the original space for six months while Peter, Trevor and Tina’s father renovated the new building with new walls, ceilings and floors to suit the bakery business.
The move to the new location enabled Corso’s to install larger ovens, hire more staff and increase production. The increased production capacity was put to use right away when a new partnership with national company ProFlowers required Corso’s to grow exponentially to meet demand. The deal helped attract interest in Corso’s products from the Yankee Candle Company and more national contracts quickly followed. Tina and Peter’s success continues to keep them motivated, and growth plans are definitely on the company’s horizon. In 2013, participating in the SBA Emerging Leaders initiative helped Tina and Peter map out their three-year Strategic Growth Action Plan to deal with the seasonal nature of their sales as well as to plan ahead for the next level of the business.
Peter explains, “The Emerging Leaders program had been highly recommended to me by local leaders and fellow business owners who had graduated from the program. Our business was growing so fast that it made sense to me to get out of the office and focus on growing strategically. The course did a great job helping us break down the numbers behind our business and I thought the guest mentors who worked with us one-on-one were fantastic.”
In February 2014, Corso’s will be audited for its SQF Level 2 certification, regarded as one of the toughest food safety certifications, to become the only decorated cookie company in North America with the certification. The higher SQF certification would enable Corso’s to pursue even bigger partners such as WalMart, Starbucks and Target. The company expects to relocate to an even larger space with 50,000-square-feet to accommodate planned growth.
“The best part of owning our business is working with my wife. It’s great to share the whole experience together, making us much stronger as a couple. At this point, the years of 15-hour days are somewhat in the past for us and we have more freedom to spend time with our three daughters,” Peter says. “It’s great to be a contributor to the local community as well, as we now employ almost 50 people who we consider part of our extended family.”
In a baker’s dozen years, Corso’s Cookies has grown from a home-based business to the largest producer of decorated cookies in North America. Corso’s Cookies stand out in the market with proprietary decorating technology that provides enormous manufacturing capacity while maintaining a hand-made look and taste. The almond and vanilla flavored shortbread cookies come in a wide range of shapes and colors, from striped bumblebees to winking snowmen, in bouquets for almost any occasion. Their decorated cookies can be purchased nationwide, including at Barnes and Noble, Hobby Lobby, and Cracker Barrel Restaurants, at their company website, or visiting their annual NY State Fair bakery in the Dairy Barn.
In 1976, Watertown native Randy Yerden was a lab technician at the University of Rochester’s School of Medicine when he found he was unable to control cellular oxygen levels using conventional lab equipment. Necessity is the mother of invention, and when Yerden realized he could create a new design to provide a better environment for cell cultures, the first product that would eventually evolve into the Xvivo System was born.
Yerden started manufacturing and selling the device from his garage in 1982 and worked for years developing and selling improved versions of the invention. After hiring several employees the garage space quickly became inadequate and Yerden relocated the business. With room to grow in Lacona, NY, staffing levels grew to more than 20 as Yerden developed new designs for incubators, glove chambers and other laboratory equipment. The Xvivo System is a modular, scalable and custom configurable “clean room in a box” that allows for cell incubation and experimentation in a closed optimized environment. By approaching equipment design from the perspective of cellular needs, Yerden’s fully realized Xvivo System is able to offer new capabilities to any laboratory previously available only to cutting edge scientists.
“Our unique equipment means that cell therapists are no longer dependent on the limited number of multi-million dollar clean rooms, usually only found in large tertiary hospitals and research centers. The Xvivo System’s modular nature fits any cell production process, and is extremely affordable,” explains Yerden.
Though not Yerden’s intended market, medical researchers discovered the Xvivo System’s capabilities for cell research and the global demand for the Xvivo System spiked dramatically. Yerden turned to the Oswego Small Business Development Center in 2010; with their help, Yerden developed a business plan to target foreign markets and for economic development funding from the Oswego County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) for increased production capacity of the Xvivo System. The company was able to ramp up production to meet demand, and with product exported all over the world, has grown to employ 58 in a rural Oswego County town with population of 582. Today there are hundreds of Xvivo Systems currently used in biomedical research to find cures for numerous diseases, including in Hong Kong for leukemia and neuroblastomas, in Finland for diabetes, in Canada for lung injury and cornea repair, in Scotland for cancer and in Poland for skin and cartilage repair, among many others.
In April of this year the Xvivo System was used in a revolutionary operation at Children’s Hospital of Illinois to produce a tissue-engineered trachea for a 32-month-old Korean toddler born without a windpipe. The little girl’s stem cells were isolated from a simple blood draw and seeded onto a trachea-shaped plastic scaffold provided by Harvard BioScience. The new man made trachea was produced and grew inside the Xvivo System and then successfully implanted, marking the first time a child has received a tissue-engineered trachea. Avoiding donor tissue virtually eliminated the chances of her immune system rejecting the transplant. The ability to locate the Xvivo System inside the surgical suite made the innovative procedure much safer and much easier. The new trachea was only transported a few feet to the patient instead of a 150-mile flight from the nearest clean room in Chicago.
Yerden views the company’s experience in the ground-breaking surgery as pivotal: “Our company was able to quickly build and deliver the FDA compliant system for the trachea production in a matter of weeks. This is unprecedented in the history of the industry. It proves these exciting new therapies can be performed in any hospital.”
Under Randy Yerden’s leadership, BioSpherix has grown from a startup in a garage to a multi-million dollar business with innovative products shipped across the world. Last year, experienced business executive Michael Bovalino was hired to run day-to day operations and Yerden’s son Peter started learning the different company divisions on a rotational basis. The growth and success of the company was highlighted when Yerden was honored as the SBA Syracuse District Small Business Exporter of the Year in 2012. Relentless growth is anticipated, and BioSpherix is expanding to a second location in Oswego County in order to accommodate swelling demand for the Xvivo System. Yerden has spent 30 years building his business by staying one step ahead of the competition with lean manufacturing and nimble design processes, and plans continued growth and commercial success for many years to come.