In Asbury Park, An Entrepreneurial Approach to Job Creation

Comments (5) Posted By Joe on February 21, 2013 in Business Basics, Partners in Empowerment

During the halcyon days of the dot-com boom, Roger Boyce shuttled between his Monmouth County home and Silicon Valley, where he worked for and founded high tech start-ups.

It was a rough commute even by New Jersey standards, but the entrepreneur kept it up for almost fifteen years before retiring from the industry in 2009.

That Boyce found himself restless after abandoning this frenetic pace should come as no surprise. Soon after returning to New Jersey, he began putting his business acumen to use in Asbury Park as an informal mentor.

Referring to the local bicycle shop with which he started, Boyce said, “I was helping them with general business coaching on a volunteer basis, then I picked up another client and another, then I had a half a dozen people I was mentoring.”

Around the time Boyce focused on his community, an Asbury Park community group called Interfaith Neighbors set its sights on business.

“We see it’s economic conditions that drive families into trouble,” said Paul McEvily, Interfaith Neighbors’ associate executive director, “So we decided to devote some of our resources to helping people create businesses that will create better jobs.”

For the past quarter-century, Interfaith Neighbors has provided vital social services: it helps teenagers earn high-school equivalency degrees and gain job skills, it builds and secures housing for low-income Monmouth County residents, and it runs the local Meals on Wheels operation.

When the group sought to foster local entrepreneurship, it turned to Boyce to lead the effort. The result is a business incubator that — since launching in fall of 2011 — has served more than 100 entrepreneurs and actively mentors 18 companies.

McEvily said when he and Boyce explored the business incubator idea by touring others throughout the region, they came across some encouraging data: “If you’re an entrepreneur and you incubate your business for up to two years, you have an 80 percent chance of remaining in business after three years,” McEvily said, adding that “incubated” businesses are likely to remain in the area in which they launched.

Boyce said his position — though fulfilling — is unexpected. “I’m the last guy you’d think would be in a community development role,” he said, “but as entrepreneur, you’re a problem-solver. So I’m just applying the entrepreneurial process to the problem of unemployment.”

Boyce and his colleagues will soon continue their quest for economic vitality by opening the Kula Cafe, an eatery that will employ local residents and aim to train them for jobs in Asbury Park’s growing entertainment and restaurant industries. Funders such as the Spring Lake Five, Jersey Mike’s Subs and PNC Bank made the café possible.

This December 2012 photo shows the space that will become the Kula Cafe.

The idea for the Kula Cafe came from Cafe Reconcile, the New Orleans restaurant — founded by social entrepreneur Craig Cuccia — that serves much the same purposes. “That’s how this got started,” Boyce said, “we got inspired seeing what someone else had done that’s been proven to work.”

If Interfaith Neighbors continues its entrepreneurship-related work apace, it’s likely groups from around the country will, in turn, seek Boyce’s advice on what he’s proven to work.

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