I first met Elli from Skopos when I worked at Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation. I was new to economic development and I noticed that Elli was business savvy and sympathetic to the small business owner's perspective. Hurricane Sandy devastated many businesses along the Brooklyn waterfront, so it was a particularly tough time for them. We found ways to collaborate in our work and I was thrilled when she asked me to be part of her Skopos team. Here’s a conversation we had about her plans for Skopos. ---Mary
Mary: Skopos sounds cool. What is the mission of the team?
Elli: Skopos is a greek word that means "purpose." So, our purpose is to empower motivated business owners to build a solid, competitive foundation and fresh ideas to help them succeed. Given our extensive work with small businesses in NYC, we have seen firsthand how difficult it can be to own and operate a successful business in NYC. It's getting harder and harder to compete in today's hyper-competitive market. Without being totally on top of your operations, owners run the risk of having to shut down.
In short, I guess you could say we are defenders of NYC small businesses!
Mary: After Hurricane Sandy, I worked with a team of urban planners who wanted to get small businesses up and running in the Rockaways. People realized how vital the businesses were to everyday life. You have worked with small businesses for many years. What is it that keeps you going?
Elli: I've always been interested in entrepreneurship - it requires a different energy fueled by optimism. I also firmly believe small business create the heart, soul and character of our communities and provide us with things we want and need to be happy. Without them, our communities are not as dynamic. For example, walking the streets of Midtown Manhattan versus the streets of Soho or Fort Greene evokes a completely different set of emotions.
Lastly, when people can’t find a job (or a find a job they love), they become entrepreneurs and empower themselves to create a stream of income. They may be coming from another country or another place and take the risk to become self-reliant. It's such a testament of character.
Here’s a couple of examples:
Gourmet Guru is run by a young couple, Jeff and Kim. Jeff was riding around in his truck in Manhattan, selling cheese products. He started in 2006 with $5,000 and a dream. Today, he employs over 100 people in the Bronx and distributes hundreds of products to hundreds of grocery chains and independent stores.
Deb Windsor, the owner of Construction Kids, got started by doing a project with her child’s preschool class to teach the kids how to build things like music instruments and skateboards. She ended up quitting her job and started Construction Kids motivated by the happiness she found in teaching kids and she was great at it. She was also responding to an overwhelming demand from kids and their parents. Considering how much time kids spend in front of a screen, this class really brings them out to learn how to work with tools and make things like the houses we live and the furniture we sit on.
The odds are against entrepreneurs but they take on the risk anyway and hustle to achieve success. I think it's really special and I want to celebrate and support them.
Mary: I remember seeing Construction Kids’ space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. I think they provide something important to city kids.
You told me about a food business and a maker business. Are there other types of businesses you want to target?
Elli: There are three types of businesses that we can help the most. They are creatives, makers, and community-based businesses. Creatives can range from art galleries, publishers, designers, set builders, photographers, and lighting professionals. Makers are in fashion, craft furniture, food, hardware and others. Community-based businesses are locally-oriented, specialty retailers.
So glad to have you on-board, Mary! I can tell you're passionate too about small business, too. What is it that makes you excited about the little guy?
Mary: I grew up on a family farm in Courtland, Kansas. We have a small store called the Depot Market where we sell homegrown fruits and vegetables. I grew up working on the farm with my Dad, Mom, six siblings, and the cast of colorful characters involved in the operations. I know from my Dad's experience how difficult it is to run a small business. I admire small business owners for their pluck.
Elli: We love family farms! There's nothing like driving in the country to pick up fresh corn and watermelon.