Point Positive investors support entrepreneurial ecosystem
By Tim Rowland
Cori Deans, founder of the fermented-food company Small Town Cultures, apologized to an audience of 30 that her notes were not as meticulously organized as they might have been. But Whole Foods, where her products — produced in her home (her home!) in Keene — have been sold regionally, had just asked her to pitch them a plan to take her product line global, and “that changed my week,” she said.
That excuse was deemed acceptable to the audience, which responded with a hearty round of applause.
In the crowd were some of Deans’ original investors, who believed in her enough to grubstake her small business, which has grown into a nationally recognized brand.
These “angel investors” were members of Point Positive, an organization founded in 2013 to foster entrepreneurial businesses in the Greater Adirondack Region through mentoring and education, flagging potential business opportunities, and investing their own capital in promising start-ups.
This month, Point Positive — meeting in person for the first time since the pandemic — listened to the pitches of two entrepreneurs who hoped to convince members that their ideas were worthy of investment.
Building high-speed fiber network
David Genito, founder of Lake Placid Fiber, hopes to light up the greater Lake Placid area with high speed broadband service superior to that provided by last-generation copper wire. That would significantly increase online speeds for residential customers and open virtually unlimited opportunities for new businesses, he told the group.
“This would make Lake Placid and surrounding areas a driver for economic development,” he said.
Genito began his career in construction, and as part of his work he became increasingly aware of people clamoring for high-speed fiber. He founded his new company in 2016, and spent the next two years securing licensure from the Federal Communications Commission and the state Public Service Commission.
Since then, he has negotiated with Lake Placid for use of its utility poles and begun assembling the necessary equipment and bucket trucks to do the work.
Genito said he needs $500,000 to begin the buildout, and $8 million to $10 million to serve the 12946 area code. Lake Placid Fiber would connect homes and businesses to existing fiber trunk lines laid by the Development Authority of the North Country. DANC, a “middle mile” provider, brings fiber to a community, but relies on other companies to do “last mile” connections to homes and businesses.
“This is modeled for Lake Placid, but it could be packaged up and used in other communities,” Genito said. “As technology advances, who knows what opportunities will be?”
Treating contaminated groundwater
The second pitch was presented by Clarkson University professor Michelle Crimi, whose idea is a novel way to treat groundwater that has become contaminated with polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS, or “forever chemicals.”
Crimi said these chemicals appear across a spectrum of modern life, from nonstick frying pans to waterproof outdoor gear to stain-resistant textiles to firefighting foams. These chemicals are believed to cause multiple health risks, and are so pervasive that 97% of Americans have likely been exposed to them, according to the National Institute of Health.
“Nearly every American has been exposed, and we’re just now learning about their toxicity,” Crimi said.
When they appear in greater concentrations, such as the groundwater beneath a firefighting training site, Crimi said the water must be treated, an expensive and imperfect process that involves treating it after it has been pumped from the ground.
In 2018, Crimi co-founded RemWell, a groundwater remediation company that proposes to treat groundwater in situ, with horizontal pipes inserted directly into groundwater flows. Instead of charcoal filters — which are themselves problematic, since they are difficult to safely dispose of — the RemWell solution treats the water with ultrasound.
“We think we have a great solution for our customers,” Crimi said.
Reviewing the proposals
After hearing both pitches, Point Positive members met privately to discuss the potential of each. If investors believe the concepts are worthy of further study, Point Positive coordinator Melinda Little said the organization will perform due diligence on the companies, after which members will individually decide whether to take part in the projects.
Not all start-ups make as big a splash as Small Town Cultures, which is in the process of moving from Deans’ home to a 4,000-square-foot industrial building in Plattsburgh. Some succeed, some fail, some get bought out, Little said.
Along with the pitches, Point Positive members heard progress reports from a half-dozen innovators who have been financed by group members, including a manufacturer of insulated tents, the owner of a massive, 10-acre greenhouse, a boutique dairy, a producer of chaga teas and tinctures and a builder of home-sized windmills. Company founders spoke frankly about successes and challenges and the vagaries of small business ownership: new product lines, promising collaborations and major contracts have been counterbalanced by bureaucratic red tape, difficulty dealing with overseas markets, the Covid pandemic and disappointing sales figures.
But win or lose, the company representatives were grateful for the crucial assistance of Point Positive. “I think we do chaga better than anybody,” said Garrett Kopp, founder of the medicinal mushroom company Birch Boys in Tupper Lake. “Funding from Point Positive changed my life and I’m very grateful for that.”