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Bill Owens: An Angel Fund In The North Country?

Former Congressman Bill Owens
Bill Owens

In the nearly thirty-five years that I have been involved as an attorney, bank director, member of Congress and volunteer in economic development, one of the most pressing issues by business consistently is the lack of startup capital.

There are many cleaver, innovative and likely marketable ideas that never flourish because they lack that initial capital to either start the business or to grow it to an economically viable level.  Our banks, IDAs, Chambers, state agencies and others involved in economic development, provide many of the tools and advice necessary to get things started, but frequently, when the gap arises between what a bank will lend, and what an entrepreneur can dig out of his or her own pocket, the remaining source of funds is investment from third parties.  Private offerings are tricky and can be expensive, although appropriate for the next level of funding.

The concept behind Point Positive is to grow organically business that have strong ties to the region and/or a compelling reason for locating here.  The criteria used to evaluate a potential investment include: a location within roughly a two (2) hour drive of Saranac Lake; the venture needs to be promising and scalable; and requiring an investment of $50,000-$500,000.

These angel investors have initially invested in three companies.  Pro Cat USA, Inc., based in Rouses Point, New York, intends to grow to twenty-seven employees building a unique new workboat. 

Whole Share is an online food and household items retailer, who aims to make a sustainable home affordable.  It has operations in Potsdam and San Francisco, and hopes to grow to five to ten employees in Potsdam over the next two years while also adding thirty part-time jobs across the region.

ADK Packworks with facilities in Keene and Vergennes, VT is an innovative bag and pack company that uses the classic Adirondack pack basket for design inspiration, selling its products in the community store in Saranac Lake and the Mountaineer in Keene Valley, and hopes to grow to between three to eight employees in the Adirondacks. One of the principal reasons for this first investment was to take a step toward a national brand for the Adirondacks.

One of the most encouraging developments for Point Positive has been that after the initial surge of interest in its first year of operation that interest continues and appears to be growing in the second year.  What that reflects in my view is the long-standing need for startup funding in the Adirondacks.  Melinda Little, Executive Director of Point Positive has indicated to me that there is a need to increase the potential investors pool, and she expresses great enthusiasm at the opportunity to meet a varied group of entrepreneurs as the investments described above clearly indicate.  The experience of the investor pool (there are 15 now, and they need more) is also incredibly valuable to the entrepreneurs, as in effect, not only are they receiving funds, but in many cases, free consulting services, not a bad deal. The focus of Point Positive is to build promising, scalable businesses organically, which the members of Point Positive believe is a more realistic approach to improving the economic vitality of the region, then solely trying to attract businesses that have no connection to our region. 

This is a unique way to give back to the local community, and potentially make some money. 

Former congressman Bill Owens represented New York's North Country from 2009 until retiring from the House in 2015. The Democrat is now a strategic advisor in the Washington Office of McKenna, Long and Aldridge, and a partner in the Plattsburgh firm of Stafford, Owens, Piller, Murnane, Kelleher and Trombly.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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