His Company Created 100 Jobs, Now He Wants To Help Others Make More
DUNMORE — A third-generation commercial coffee roaster from Newark who moved his company to Dunmore last year wants budding entrepreneurs to have the same coaching he had.
Joseph Fernandes III, the vice president of SoCafe who’s now at the helm of the company his grandfather started, opened a for-profit business incubator in 4,000 square feet of unused space at his plant on East Grove Street.
He spent $60,000 to wall off the area, clean up the plumbing and gas lines and add three offices and a conference room for his incubator clients to use.
“What we do is give them a place to think, a place to develop their ideas, access to phone lines, access to copiers, access to attorneys, access to legal documents that otherwise they’d have to pay someone a ton of money to produce,” Fernandes said.
His executive suite is just off the main floor, putting him in arm’s reach at any time.
He’s also in the final stages of buying warehouse and office space in Plains Twp., where he plans to start a similar incubator.
At 31 years old, Fernandes has helped build and sell more companies, separate from his family’s coffee business, than most people will in a lifetime.
In 2014, he appeared on the Canadian version of “Shark Tank” called “Dragon’s Den,” which led to a successful international marketing campaign for Counting Sheep Coffee, a decaffeinated coffee with valerian root to drink before bed.
Several times during an interview and tour of his plant and incubator, Fernandes said mentors had been gracious, gave freely of their time and steered him in the right direction in his career’s earliest days.
It gave him an edge, now he wants to pay it forward.
There’s no void of available incubator programs in Northeast Pennsylvania.
Economic development groups, universities and chambers of commerce start them so startups can pay lower rent for smaller space and tap a pool of resources and services they otherwise couldn’t afford.
The Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce has two separate incubators. There’s one in Carbondale for tech and manufacturing companies. Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania has one in Wilkes-Barre. The economic development agency CANDO has an incubator in West Hazleton.
“Joe offers a different skill set,” said Bruce Reddock, an economic development specialist at the Scranton chamber.
Fernandes credits him as instrumental in getting SoCafe to Dunmore.
“Joe’s more boots on the ground as an entrepreneur himself,” Reddock said.
Fernandes’ incubator might look like competition to the agency that brought him here, but Reddock said ties between the two organizations should only strengthen.
“I think he has some resources that we might not be able to offer,” he said. “But at the same time, we can offer the resources that he doesn’t have.”
Fernandes’ model is different than most of the others.
He’s picky on the companies he agrees to support, careful that they’re a good match for what coaching he can offer.
Since he started about four months ago, the open area he calls “the pit” has been used for some light assembly and as a pop-up call center among other things.
Also different from other incubators, clients don’t pay up front.
Instead Fernandes wants a stake in the companies, blending the spirit of “Shark Tank” with the traditional incubator model.
In his client contract agreements, he asks for no more than 9 percent ownership, he said. Then, at some point when the business has a firm footing, the owners agree to buy him out.
“Joe Fernandes is an entrepreneur at heart,” said George Kelly, Lackawanna County’s economic development director who was part of a multi-agency team that helped bring SoCafe to Dunmore.
Kelly’s encouraged to see Fernandes digging deep in Dunmore, “one, for the coffee business, but second for the energy and vitality that he’s bringing to the area,” he said. “He’s a great partner and an economic development driver for this area.”
The young entrepreneur, who recently finished building a home in the Abingtons and moved his wife and two children from New Jersey, said his family is adapting well, and they’re embracing the slower pace.
Beyond that, he sees a deep bank of entrepreneurial enthusiasm that needs a little help on the management side, he said.
“You could have all the opportunity in the world,” he said. “But if you don’t know how to leverage it to your advantage, you can’t go anywhere.”
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