Freshly Hatched *
A new incubator, New York Designs, aims to support talent on the rise
Aric Chen -- Interior Design, 6/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
In France, fledgling designers can look to Valorisation de l'Innovation dans l'Ameublement, a government-subsidized agency that supports and promotes them at home and abroad. In the U.K., there's the British Design Council. Most anywhere in Europe, in fact, scarcely a designer is left without access to some publicly funded service devoted to the cause.
But in the U.S.? Well, we prefer to foster "self-reliance" and "can-do" initiative. But hoping to make things easier for those in New York, at least, is an extraordinary new initiative.
New York Designs is an incubator at the Queens campus of the City University of New York's LaGuardia Community College. Armed with $5 million from the state, $1.2 million in federal funds, $150,000 for environmentally conscious initiatives, and other government grants, the program will offer an almost unheard-of array of services and facilities to designers—for negligible fees. That's no small matter, especially in this city, where high rents and labor costs, not to mention even higher-priced lawyers and consultants, can sober a young entrepreneur already struggling to cover the expenses for production, materials, and technology.
"New York ranks first in the U.S. for professionals in architecture, jewelry, fashion, and graphics," says director Mary Howard, naming some of her constituents. "But until now, there hasn't been an entrepreneurial center to help these businesses grow."
New York Designs offers education and counseling in matters from business development and legal issues to marketing and contract negotiations. Classes of two or three hours are offered for $50—a recent one was called the Art of Self-Promotion—while advisers provide their services at just $25 per hour. The organization even plans to create a $1 million collateral fund to back designers trying to secure bank loans. If space is a more pressing problem, 60,000 square feet will soon house meeting rooms, a materials library, a workshop, studio-offices, and more.
This isn't state-sponsored altruism or a bureaucratic soft spot for emerging talent. Instead, Howard cites labor statistics that credit New York's design industries with 175,000 jobs, accounting for a combined payroll of $4.9 billion, $900 million deriving from firms of fewer than 20 people. "We found that the average income of architects and interior designers, for example, exceeds the citywide average, so these are good jobs, from an economic-development perspective," she says.
There's more where they came from, too. "There are 18,000 design students here at any given time," she continues. "And, statistically, designers are among the most entrepreneurial of any academic major."
Currently occupying temporary space, the venture will move permanently in January to two new premises in Long Island City, an industrial area with a growing creative community. What was once, appropriately, the International Design Center of New York—a massive warehouse building still crowned by its previous tenant's initials—will house 40,000 square feet of facilities by Resolution: 4 Architecture. "The floor plan focuses on integration, easing from the most public spaces to the most private," says partner Joseph Tanney. Due to higher-than-expected demand, New York Designs has added 20,000 square feet close by as well.
All told, the incubator will accommodate 20 firms from architects to jewelry designers. Each will hold a three-year lease at below-market annual rents of $5,200 to $26,000 for spaces of 400 to 2,000 square feet. The meeting rooms, library, and workshop—outfitted with basic saws and computerized mills alike—will be available to tenants and non-tenants at reasonable charges.
In the meantime, a graphics firm, a handbag designer, and an artist who works with neon have moved into the pilot space. The neon artist, Kenny Greenberg, seems pleased, though he does offer one caveat: "The incubator has lots of great benefits, but there's a bureaucratic aspect to any public program, and being here does put you under the close scrutiny of the college."
Of course, most of the program's beneficiaries are likely to be off-site, and Giovanni Pellone has certainly profited from that arrangement. His company, Benza, was already manufacturing playful home accessories by Harry Allen, Jeffrey Bernett, Karim Rashid, and Ali Tayar. Nevertheless, Pellone realized that an extra boost could take his firm to the next level.
"Instead of talking to my $200-an-hour attorney and consultants," he says, he turned to the incubator. New York Designs helped him not only to develop a business plan but also to get a much-needed intern and to secure a small-business loan that's funding office furnishings and a full-time marketing director. "They've really turned my business around 180 degrees," Pellone says. And that's just between February and June.
Benza's polyethylene Sticky clock by Bridget Means and New York Designs client Giovanni Pellone.
The Drop bowl in hand-cast resin, also by Pellone.
Kenny Greenberg, who has a workshop in the New York Designs pilot facility, created the neon elements of Robin Wagner's sets for the Flower Drum Song production on Broadway.