Where are they now? In conversation with Propel founder Jimmy Chen

Where are they now? In conversation with Propel founder Jimmy Chen

Since winning $5,000 Since at the December 2016 Make It In Brooklyn pitch contest, Propel was also selected to receive a $100,000 grant from the Future Cities Accelerator, a new program that’s a joint initiative of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Unreasonable Institute. We caught up with Propel's founder to talk more about making it here in Brooklyn. 

Four ways to create future success in 2017

by Lenore Champagne Beirne, Bright Coaching 

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Once you’ve had the time to relax and recharge from the hustle of 2016, I hope you’ll turn your thoughts to how to make 2017 your most powerful year yet. Collectively, we need to focus this year on bringing our best to our communities and our world. This comes through our vision, jobs, resources, opportunities, and ideas.Do you know what you want to bring to life this year? This time next year, what will you have accomplished? Below are some ways to add momentum and sustainability to your vision this year.  

Join a community of creators

If you’re a solopreneur, leader of a small company, freelancer, or artist - find a coworking space or “third space” that brings out the best in you. Here in Brooklyn, attend Make it Brooklyn events and work from places like the CoLab Factory to meet fellow founders. Staying plugged in with a community of other creators helps add structure to an often very unstructured work life. It’s also a place to find solidarity in tough times, people to celebrate with in create times, and cross-pollination of ideas and resources.

Challenge 1: Find someone who will support you in hitting your targets this year. Set up some time with that person to decide what kind of support you’re looking for - strategic suggestions, encouragement, referrals, or just high fives - and the logistics - how often you’ll check in, and via what medium. This simple support structure can change the way your weeks go, and those more productive weeks sum to a better year.

Have a detailed action plan

A long-term vision isn’t enough on it’s own. Many people struggle to move from “What will I do this year?” to “What do I do today?” Take the time this month to lay out your plans, and display them in a way that you will regularly see them. Find the combination of hand-writing, calendar-ing, apps, and other tech that works for you.  For me, writing by hand is most effective for journaling and ideating. Then, I move to an app (Trello, Evernote, or a just a spreadsheet paired with Google calendar) that helps organize those ideas into daily to-dos and monthly milestones.

Challenge 2: Having trouble going from the big picture to the daily to-dos? Join us for a January workshop where we will do just that. If you can’t make it, also know that this step is a great time to enlist the help of a friend or partner. Have someone be a sounding board as you break the big vision down into smaller chunks. Then take a break, clear your mind, and write out the steps it would take to hit the first small chunk on your list.

Continue to play

Leadership requires your full engagement, and if you work in a young company, your work will be a mirror for your own mental state. Don’t forget to take breaks, to play, and to encourage the development of your own creativity. As a leader, the organization can only go as far as you can take it - use play to stretch your leadership capacity and in turn, your company’s growth potential.

Challenge 3: Find a way to play. Go for immersive, healthy, and energizing activities: take an improv class, dancing, making some art, or playing with a child can be great options. Alternatively, sign up for the next session at CAMP (Creativity, Art, Movement, Play) in NYC. This should be a fun one to commit to to get started.

Let your vision drive you

A little bit of work now will pay dividends later, so take the time to really let yourself see and feel your vision. Close your eyes and really imagine it. Then, write it all down. Consistent journaling helps to inspire you, and more importantly it helps you to maintain clarity on what should take top priority in the midst of a swarm of to-dos.

Challenge 4: Journal every day next week about what your life, your company, your customers, and your community will be like when you’ve accomplished your goal. Every time you re-read this journal entry, you’ll feel a pull from your vision. Set aside a few minutes each morning to focus on that visualization, and then let journaling become a full-fledged habit.

If you are looking for a partner to help bring your vision to life, I dedicate a good portion of my time coaching entrepreneurs. Here’s to building your future in 2017!  


Lenore Champagne Beirne | Bio

Now the mastermind behind Bright Consulting, Lenore is a partner for founders who are working to bring vision to life. She has 10 years of experience working as an employee, consultant, coach, and investor to startups and social enterprises. Lenore recently served as an a senior investment associate and founder coach at 645 Ventures in NYC. In addition to working with the founders and founding teams of venture-backed organizations, Lenore has adapted coaching frameworks to support corporate leaders and small business. She supported the development of and co-taught a new NYU MBA course, “Developing Managerial Skills” and coaches minority- and women-owned businesses via New York’s Small Business Administration. Lenore holds a Bachelor’s in Business Administration (Finance, Marketing) from American University and an MBA (Leadership, Entrepreneurship & Innovation) from NYU Stern. 
Lenore is passionate about increasing founders’ capacity for leadership and their impact on their industries and communities. 

Where are they now? Happy Founder Jay Reno’s successful exit

An interview by Downtown Brooklyn Partnership Content Strategist Jessica Ainlay

On a warm summer day in June, I sat down with Happy co-founder Jay Reno at our local coffee shop, AVA Brew. We settled in and started chatting about how many turns a startup takes, and what a wild ride entrepreneurship can be.

“In fact,” he said, “I actually can’t tell you what I want to tell you…but I’ll make sure to tell your whole team as soon as I can.”

Interest piqued, I tried from every angle to get him to disclose the details of this latest turn in our first ever winner of the inaugural Make It in Brooklyn pitch contest in June of 2015. I got nowhere, obviously, and instead opted to wait patiently for the news.

Happy acquired by PaidEasy

Yesterday, Jay sent us a link to this TechCrunch article breaking the news that Happy has been acquired by PaidEasy, a New York-based mobile payment app for restaurants.

This is huge news for Happy - an app company solving excess capacity at bars and restaurants.

Originally, Happy had three co-founders. Jay took the Business Development & Partnerships side, Jake Malone became CTO and Sarah Bartley was CMO.

Happy built the product with this core team and raised some angel capital in 2014. They launched in early 2015 and the company started really growing just as the seed capital ran out. Jake and Sarah took on other jobs and the sales team was also let go.

“It was hard to let them go, but ultimately I had to let them know that our runway was getting shorter and shorter and that they should start looking.”

What winning $50,000 can do for a startup

That’s when Happy pitched and won first place at the Make It in Brooklyn Pitch Contest, an evening where ten finalists pitched for a $50,000 investment by Downtown Brooklyn Partnership Board Co-Chairs, MaryAnne Gilmartin and Bre Pettis. I asked him a few questions about how that investment helped his business.

How did the $50,000 investment help your business most immediately?

“First, I was able to bring back some of my sales staff so we could continue to expand our market and build our product out. But it was more than that.”

“Having Bre Pettis and MaryAnne Gilmartin interested in our company and on board with us helped legitimize us within the community. Suddenly there were headlines in the papers that we were one of Brooklyn’s rising startups. People really started talking about us.”

What is an advantage of being a Brooklyn-based startup?

“For starters, it gives your brand this ultimate legitimacy. Second, but also related, is that there are so many amazing bars and restaurants right here in Brooklyn. That means that not only were we able to build relationships here, but the venues here are a totally different type of owner than in other cities.”

In what way?

“People here are super interested and curious in general - there is such an open, innovative culture - that bars and restaurants are open to experimenting with new technologies - and their customers are too.”

What are some disadvantages of being based in Brooklyn?

“Almost nothing. One thing is that there is a lot more room for the entrepreneur + startup communities to be more closely knit. That’s why I love what you guys are doing at Make It in Brooklyn, bringing specifically the Brooklyn entrepreneurs and also VCs and other investors to really help create a sense of legitimacy within our own community. If Etsy and Kickstarter believe in Brooklyn, then you know that the rest will follow. It’s about making the community how we want it.”

Happy comes to an important crossroads

With the momentum of that healthy amount of funding by Gilmartin and Pettis, Jay continued to hustle and build the network. Unfortunately, however, within a few months, they hit a snag very common to many startups. They were either going to have to raise another round of funding or the company would go under. They’d have to raise $1 million to build and grow the company.

Investors wanted to see proof of consumer side metrics, and this wasn’t available. From Jay’s perspective, there was no reason to raise smaller amounts of money if what they actually needed was at a much higher level than what they were going to receive.

“What we know with absolutely certainty is we have a network that we know is valuable. We have a strong relationship with bars and restaurants, a strong consumer base and good consumer metrics. We have good technology and a great funnel for another company. We have a massive number of users coming in at the top of the funnel. A lot.” He underscored that last bit with quite a lot of pride.

The entrepreneurial roller coaster

“Being an entrepreneur is an emotional roller coaster - one minute you are completely down in the dumps because your realize that your company only has three months left of runway and the next, you can be right back up if you get the next angel check or make that next big sale.”

“That’s why you, no matter what, you have to say right in the 60-40 zone. When you’re on a big high from a success, don’t let your emotions fly up and off the charts. The same goes, however, for when you have something bad happen you didn’t expect - don’t let yourself drop down to a 20 or a 10. Always stay as level as possible, and that will help you along the way.”

I have to wonder if Jay was able to stay in that 60-40 zone when PaidEasy made the acquisition official.

What will you do now?

I’m still unsure of the details, but what I do know is that I’ll continue to support the Make It in Brooklyn community however I can. I think it’s super important to give back and to help grow our community here in Brooklyn.

Look out for Jay Reno as a judge at our next Make It in Brooklyn pitch contest at the Innovation Summit on September 28th, 2016.

How to take part in Make It in Brooklyn

Apply here to be chosen as one of our five pitch contest finalists on September 28th. 

Get your $15 pitch contest ticket here.

Want more? Pick up a ‘Startup’ pass to attend just the afternoon panels ‘Show me the money’ and ‘Launch. Scale. Thrive.’ in addition to the evening pitch contest. Or, go all in and get the full day Founder pass to network with Brooklyn’s top leaders across all industries.  Find out more about all the Make It in Brooklyn Innovation Summit Ticket tracks here

Where are they now? Mullein & Sparrow Pitch Contest Winners

By Jessica Ainlay, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership’s Content Strategist

From Downtown Brooklyn, I hopped the B57 bus to Bushwick and proceeded past block after gritty block of wide, vacant streets, cement buildings and corrugated tin roofs. 

The colorful Bushwick street art is a relief on these otherwise bleak set of blocks. 

No one passes me on foot until I get to the street where Mullein & Sparrow is located. I head up to their workshop and the grit is immediately washed away by smells of lavender, patchouli, and spearmint baths salts. 

The glow of the afternoon light is not yet glaring, it warms the room. Essential oils line the walls behind the stool where I sit and chat with the ladies of Mullein & Sparrow, the winners of our Make It in BK Makers Edition pitch contest.

Read about the next Make It in Brooklyn pitch contest here.   


India-born, NYC-raised Brooklynite founder Anit Hora started an herbal company out of her Bushwick apartment in 2012. Then an herbalist, she made tinctures and salves, after quitting her not-as-glamorous-as-you’d-think fashion designer career, giving in to her wanderlust, traveling the world and returning inspired to learn to become an herbalist, instead. 

While traveling through South America, she discovered herbals and teas being used in ways she had never seen in the US. Argentina and Peru used herbals for healing - which she was fascinated by - but it was the beauty products that sold once she got back home. 

So she shifted from herbs to beauty products with her company Mullein & Sparrow, taking on her second employee in 2015 and her third later that year. 

When the three women came to pitch at our Make It in Brooklyn Pitch Contest: Maker’s Edition, they had already managed to lock in wholesale clients like Anthropologie, One Kings Lane, Gilt and BHLDN. 

Their pitch was polished and practical, impressing the five pitch contest judges who unanimously voted to grant Mullein & Sparrow the $5,000 cash prize, plus a one-month WeWork membership. 

When I caught up with them in their Bushwick workspace a month later, I asked: 

Does the $5,000 make much of an impact when you have such a strong client base already? 

Anit: Oh, without a doubt. We have great customers, but this gave us cash flow to buy at economies of scale. We bought enough raw materials in bulk for a couple of months at a time with that $5,000. It was really exciting. 

That’s great to hear. Your workshop smells so good! Are you enjoying your Bushwick space? 

Oh, well, thanks! We’re actually moving to Greenpoint. We'll still be based in Brooklyn - it’s important to us to keep our products made in Brooklyn, but we just need more space, in spite of how expensive rent is now. 

Speaking of the high rent issue, do you think you could you start your same business today in Brooklyn vs in the past?

Oh sure! Yes. There is a lot more support here than there was five years. Second, the Brooklyn brand is stronger than ever nowadays, whereas in 2012 there was not such a ‘Brooklyn’ brand to fall back on. 

We’re working with a Japanese company right now that wants us to explicitly state Made in Brooklyn on all bottles. But it’s really the resources. You guys at the Partnership, other pitch contests, SBS (Small Business Services), the Brooklyn Chamber can help you find financing, or import/export advice. I'd also recommend entrepreneurs to go to General Assembly classes and pitch as often as you can at pitch contests - even just to perfect your pitch. 

Did the pitch contest help you in any other ways aside from the cash? 

The connections and follow-ups from the event were so great, and we even had a VC reach out! We prefer bootstrapping, though. We need to control our vision so the company remains aligned with the direction we want it to go in, not handed down by people who don’t see what we go through every day. 

What does it take to make it, not just here in Brooklyn, but as a startup in general? 

Perseverance. You are going to screw up all the time. Say ‘Oops’ and keep going. 
It’s okay to make mistakes. You have to know that or you’ll never succeed. 

Measured risks. Having employees has made me be more structured. If I don’t  take risks, we don’t grow. But my risks affect more people now, so I have to take measured risks. 

I'd also say - chutzpah. You have to have that special something to stand out among so many great ideas here in Brooklyn. The creative community definitely supports you, but you also have to differentiate yourself. But I call up entrepreneurs I don’t know who have done things I want to do and I ask them how they did it - usually most are completely willing to help, too.

The last thing I’ll say is that while I’d love to be out on a farm, growing herbs, instead we’re in the city, surrounded by concrete and it’s really a sign of what it’s like to have a startup in Brooklyn. It’s a gritty place, and you have to really want it to succeed here. 

What’s next for you? 

We are going to rebrand with a more luxurious feel to attract higher end retailers and national accounts. Artisanal, handmade products got us this far, but we can’t scale that way. We have to move toward the future, so instead of remaining a cool indie brand, we have to scale. 

Good luck to Mullein & Sparrow in all your future pursuits! 

Mullein & Sparrow win Makers Edition Pitch Contest

From a pool of more than 75 applicants, they were whittled down to a handful – just five companies selected to pitch for $5,000 at the Make It in Brooklyn Pitch Contest held last week. They shared in common a focus on making products right here in Brooklyn – a cargo bike company, an ice cream shop, a confectioner, and two cosmetic lines.

In selecting the finalists, Jonathan Butler, founder of the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg, advised the startups  “to focus on profit margins, growth strategy, and use of funds,” during the two minutes they would be allotted to pitch.

When the big night arrived, nearly 150 people and our esteemed panel of judges – Butler; McKinsey & Company’s Andre Dua; Food + Tech Connect Founder Danielle Gould; Syed Rivzi of JPMorgan Chase; and Kickstarter’s Terry Romero – packed into the WeWork DUMBO Heights location to watch the pitches first-hand.

Up first, Oddfellows Ice Cream founder Mohan Kumar, who brought samples of their locally-sourced ice cream for the judging panel and talked up the uniqueness of the Williamsburg-based startup’s flavors.

Cargo Bike Collective representative Joe Sharkey followed with a demonstration of his startup’s front-loading cargo bike.

Stocked with more samples for the judges of her vegan beauty line, Mullein & Sparrow founder Anit Hora focused her pitch on the company’s expansion plans – which included global locations, like across India.

Liddabit Sweets founder Liz Gutman played up the joy of candymaking and the need for marketing dollars to help take her company to the next level.

Rounding out the pitches, Apotheke founder Chrissy Fichtl focused her pitch on the need for a new piece of machinery that would allow her soap company to increase production.

After a healthy amount of deliberation, the judges awarded Mullein & Sparrow the cash prize, along with one month of Unlimited Commons Membership from WeWork, a free Zipcar for Business membership, and a creator consultation with judge Terry Romero.

The Make It in Brooklyn pitch contests are made possible this year by a grant from JPMorgan Chase’s Small Business Forward initiative, a national program that invests in connecting small businesses to resources that help them grow faster.

Want your turn to pitch? Mark your calendars for this June and stay tuned for updates at @makeitinbk and #makeitinbk across the web.