Christopher Kelly and Ryan Simonetti seem like they were destined to be business partners and serial entrepreneurs since the day they met while attending Villanova. Their first business was a party bus service to Philadelphia for Villanova students. Their next business was selling used textbooks. Today, they are partners at Sentry Centers, a corporate hospitality business that offers state-of-the-art conference rooms, event space, and dining services.
After graduating college, Kelly and Simonetti briefly went on their separate career paths. Kelly travelled the world and started a few other businesses including another 30-Under-30 honoree, evoJets. Simonetti took the more traditional route, working as an analyst at Lehman Brothers' real estate division, and then at Gramercy Capital Corp.
It was Simonetti who had the original idea for an urban conference center. The idea was to take unused space in office buildings and renovate it as an off-site meeting destination. But he realized early on that he needed extra help to launch as scheduled.
So on October 5, 2009, Simonetti called Kelly, who decided to partner with his friend once again. On November 1, 2009, Sentry Centers opened and the business started by handling dining services for TIAA-Cref Life Insurance, which is in the same building as Sentry Centers. "We literally rolled up our sleeves and were cracking eggs to have breakfast ready for TIAA-CREF employees," says Kelly. Now, plenty of large companies based in New York City use Sentry Centers for their offsite meetings. The partners expect $8.7 million in revenue this year.
Each department at Sentry Centers, from catering services to event technology, works as its own business unit. So when the executive chef in charge of the catering services unit suggested that new software be used to streamline the food preparation process and cut down on food waste, Kelly and Simonetti listened and invested in the software. "The business unit managers feel empowered and we are not micromanaging their jobs," says Simonetti.
Once a month, staff from all departments gathers in the cafeteria, where awards are given to employees who have gone above and beyond. "This is a people business and it's about hiring the right people in to the business," says Kelly. "It's about praising them and giving them an opportunity for growth."
Sentry Centers's location in Midtown East has more than 25,000 square feet of space for corporate meetings, conferences and events. In August, the partners will open a second location with 15,000 square feet of space in the Midtown West area of New York City. They also want to expand to Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and open more centers in New York City.
Two college buddies teamed up to take unused space in office buildings, renovate it, and transform it into off-site meeting destinations.