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New incubator tenant SellingHive creating quite a buzz
Monday, December 06, 2010

SellingHive Co-founder Bob Richardson, one of the newest tenants in the SUNY Fredonia Technology Incubator, addresses a room full of potential student interns at a recent campus Career Development Office event. The company plans to hire numerous interns in the spring semester and as many as eight full-time employees within the next year.

There’s a new tenant in the SUNY Fredonia Technology Incubator, and it’s generating a swarm of activity.

SellingHive Corp. — one of 11 tenants now in the downtown Dunkirk economic development engine less than a year after it officially opened its doors — is creating a social networking site that provides custom-designed toolsets for businesses to increase sales of their products and services.

“With our online tool, businesses can describe, in detail, how they go to market, who they want to sell to, and who the decision makers are within those companies,” explained SellingHive co-founder Bob Richardson. “With that information, our system can help them build relationships with those target companies in unique and different ways that are not available today.”

Richardson and Jon Sanchez, his business partner and friend for over 25 years, joined forces to establish SellingHive, though each has experience starting their own companies in, respectively, the Buffalo area and Northern California. As a result, both are especially aware of the challenges small- to mid-sized companies face when selling a product or service. Syracuse University, where he earned a business degree, initially brought Richardson to upstate New York. He decided to make the region his home 17 years ago after accepting a position with M&T Bank in Buffalo.

“In the long run, we will be able to facilitate sales growth for companies who want to sell their product or service locally or to consumers,” Richardson explained. “But in the short term, we will focus on companies who are based in Chautauqua County who want to sell their product or service to other businesses located outside of the area. So, if a company is ‘exporting’ outside of the county already or would like to in the future, those are the companies we’d like to work with. The idea is we can help them expand their market outside of the county by building a sales network on our site.”

By locating in the incubator, SellingHive has positioned itself to service manufacturers throughout Western New York, while also utilizing key resources – including students in valuable internships – of the university.

Richardson and Sanchez were drawn to the SUNY Fredonia incubator by its director, Robert Fritzinger, and his holistic view of the incubator putting companies together and helping them work together and grow together, as opposed to primarily offering accounting or other basic support services.

“Bob Fritzinger and I have known each other for a long time. When he got the opportunity to work here he told me about his vision for what the incubator was going to be. Comparing that to other options, it sounded like a really good fit for us,” Richardson said.

Additionally, SUNY Fredonia’s commitment to SellingHive was far greater than what was offered by other educational institutions connected to incubators. “We’ve gotten a very high level of support from the campus community for what we’re trying to do,” Richardson said.

In fact, SellingHive’s founders chose SUNY Fredonia and Western New York over Silicon Valley, home of many of the world’s largest high-tech companies, because of the advantages of working closely with Fredonia’s faculty, administration and students, which appeared more readily available than at other university-affiliated incubators.

“We felt like we needed to cultivate a group of students who we could hire and employ in our business, who were both intimately familiar with social networking and had grown up with social networking, text messaging and smart phones,” Richardson explained. “We are going to really work with the university to teach them our business while they are still students. Then, once they graduate, they can potentially become employees and be further integrated into the way we grow our company.”

The company’s hiring plans are very aggressive, starting with a need for a part-time project manager and up to eight full-time employees in the next year. “We expect substantial growth in terms of number of employees,” Richardson added.

“We absolutely love what these guys are planning,” Mr. Fritzinger said. “Right now they appear to be among the most aggressive companies in the incubator, and it’s up to us as a facility, a university and a business region to support them. The opportunities for our students, in particular, are remarkable.”

At present, SellingHive offers three types of internships. Those in website development and project management will assist in creating and testing new web applications; research interns will focus on the international front by gathering information on foreign countries and writing corresponding business plans; and “evangelist” interns (using Silicon Valley lingo) will give presentations about the company to the campus and community.

Several students began serving internships during the fall semester, and many more will be added in the coming spring term.

In addition, being situated in a building comprised solely of startups positions SellingHive “shoulder-to-shoulder” with fledgling businesses that could readily benefit from the service that it provides, Richardson added. Likewise, SellingHive can tweak its own business model based on experiences with fellow incubator startups and how they use SellingHive’s online tools.

SellingHive’s ability to meet significant research challenges will be enhanced by the university affiliation, while some data collected may prove beneficial to SUNY Fredonia.

More than 80 businesses and salespeople have already registered to join the SellingHive network. Their goal is to reach 120 by mid-December. Upon the beta launch of their site, anticipated in the first quarter of 2011, SellingHive will work with members on a daily basis to help them develop their sales strategies and use the SellingHive Tools.

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