In a contest called “Race for the Space,” the Downtown Ithaca Alliance will pick the contestants with the best business proposals and reward them with, along with other incentives, one year of free rent in space in downtown Ithaca, including on the Commons.
The Downtown Ithaca Alliance is holding this competition for the first time to encourage business in Ithaca’s downtown, according to Vicki Taylor, associate director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.
According to Taylor, other cities across the country –– including West Palm Beach, Fl. –– have launched programs to help prospective entrepreneurs start and maintain their businesses. These successes inspired the Downtown Ithaca Alliance to sponsor the Race for Space to encourage the revitalization and retention of new businesses in downtown Ithaca.
In addition to free rent, the incentives offered to the winners of the contest include a one-year advertising package in The Ithaca Times; design services, business planning and marketing assistance; and quarterly monitoring visits by a team of Downtown Ithaca Alliance business operations experts, Taylor said.
Taylor said that the Downtown Ithaca Alliance is looking for entrepreneurs to submit plans for businesses that could fit in well with current businesses located on the Commons.
Submissions for the contest were accepted until March 15, and the winners will be able start their businesses by the summer, Taylor said.
Taylor believes that the Commons’ strengths make it an optimal place for numerous business investments.
“People often don’t realize the diversity of the downtown [area] and what there is to offer,” Taylor said. “You can buy groceries, you can buy clothing from Urban Outfitters to independent boutiques. And it’s a place where, if somebody has an entrepreneurial spirit, they can really succeed.”
After reviewing the various business proposals, the Downtown Ithaca Association Business Retention and Development Committee will select the competition’s finalists, who will be asked to submit formal business plans.
After submitting their formal proposals on April 26, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance will assist contest finalists with advice and technical support. The winners of the contest will be announced on May 1.
Taylor expressed excitement about the future of the downtown area.
“We have $108 million-worth of projects ... to redesign the Commons into a more open and modern space …. to create a high quality pedestrian mall and a community gathering space, build new apartment buildings, new retail, new hotels, office spaces within the next few years,” she said.
Taylor said she hopes that the contest will encourage Cornell students to become more involved in the design and planning of the downtown area.
“If the students are interested in talking about business plans and opportunities in downtown, they should certainly get in touch with us, not even just through this project,” she said. “Every year we have business recruitment and retention. If they have an idea and want to get involved, they should come and talk to us about it.”
Jordan Lim ’14 said he found the incentives offered by the competition appealing.
“Since setting up a business not only involves getting a rent space for free for a year but also having a good business plan to sustain it, quarterly monitoring visits by a team of business operations experts seems very attractive,” Lim said.
However, Lim said he was disappointed with the lack of publicity about the event.
“I think it is a good event,” Lim said. “If I’d known about this earlier, I probably would have applied for it with a group of friends … But I don't think they are doing a great job advertising about this opportunity.”
Enrico Bonatti ’14, a semi-finalist in the “Big Idea Competition” by Entrepreneurship at Cornell, which accepts submissions for business ideas that deal with social or environmental issues, said he believes students have a chance to be successful in a competition like Race for Space.
“I definitely think that Cornell students have the potential to achieve great things, and if this program was customized appropriately, it could help students with a strong entrepreneurial drive to be successful,” Bonatti said.
Taylor emphasized the need to keep talent in the Ithaca area.
“We don’t want to see everybody just come here and leave and take their smarts all over the world,” Taylor said. “There are lots of opportunities right here in their own backyard. They know the market; they have been students here for however many years. They know what their peers are looking for.”