Center Upgrades

A key use for grant money: provide guidance on health insurance

The South Side Innovation Center, whose mission is to help develop small businesses, has received a $75,000 grant from an international financial services company. The money will be used to upgrade the center’s business training programs, its director said.

The grant, from JPMorgan Chase & Co., will also be used to hire someone to help explain to small business owners what the new federal health care law may mean for them, said El-Java Williams Abdul-Qadir, the center’s director. The grant is part of a collaboration between Syracuse University and JPMorgan Chase — a corporate-university joint venture that works to develop innovations in financial services.

“The local entrepreneurial ecosystem is growing because of the connections we’ve established and the programs we offer,” he said, crediting the center’s success with attracting donors.

Located at 2610 S. Salina St., the innovation center opened in 2006 and now houses 27 small-business tenants. Abdul-Qadir said 350 entrepreneurs, such as web designers and educators, also use the center’s services. The center was created through the Falcone Center for Entrepreneurship at SU’s Whitman School of Management, whose goal is to stimulate the local economy by recruiting and training both emerging and mature businesses.

The Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obama Care,” has the potential to confuse small business owners, Abdul-Qadir said. That is why he is in the process of bringing in a health insurance navigator from HealtheConnections, a charitable organization that provides guidance for health planning in New York.

“Sometimes entrepreneurs forgo health care because if this is their primary income they may not be able to purchase it,” said Abdul-Qadir, who is a graduate of the center’s entrepreneurial assistant program, which he now directs while running his own business, Excel Martial Arts Training Center at 600 Nottingham Road.

One of the building’s 28 offices will be dedicated to HealtheConnections’ navigation site. The health care navigator’s responsibilities will include guiding the entrepreneurs through the process of finding a plan in the health insurance marketplace.

Terry Brown, the director of the Falcone Center, which facilitates entrepreneurial activity in local and regional communities, said that “someone who understands the nuances of the new law” will be indispensable in “getting the entrepreneurs up to speed.”

The innovation center received a Morgan grant before, in 2010. The 2013 grant coincides with the end of five years of funding by a federal Small Business Administration grant, which was used to cover the cost of classes at the center for low-income individuals, Abdul-Qadir said.

Other services that Abdul-Qadir hopes to improve include the entrepreneurial awareness program, which helps individuals identify their strengths and weaknesses and also determines the general feasibility of their ideas. Another service is the entrepreneurial assistance program, which helps entrepreneurs develop a business plan. For a one-time, maximum $589 fee, the center also provides access to community web consultants, accounting training and marketing and legal assistance.

“This is for people who come in and say, ‘You know, this is how grandpa did it, but I want to do it differently,’” Abdul-Qadir said.

The innovation center also houses some larger businesses that have been established for several years, and those mature companies — called “anchor tenants” — assist in incubating untested entrepreneurs. One such company is Watts Engineering & Architects, which has about 100 employees and has a Syracuse branch based in the center,
said co-owner Scott Matthews.

When the company expanded from Buffalo, it chose the innovation center because of its inexpensive rent, Matthews said. But while there, he has been involved in advising several smaller companies, including the East Environmental Group Inc., an environmental consulting firm, he said.

“We’ve seen and been part of things in the past that have brought excitement to the center,” Matthews said. “We hope to see that spark again.”

As the health-plan navigator makes his or her transition into the South Side, small business owners should start thinking ahead.

“It’s necessary to be prepared for entrepreneurs to survive,” said Lindsay Wickham, events and communications manager at the Falcone Center. “Health care is something you need to plan accordingly for and you need to factor in the costs. Otherwise it could turn you away.”