Brooklyn's Best Entrepreneurs
Steve Hindy and Tom Potter of Brooklyn BreweryRob Kalin of EtsySam Lessin and Darshan Somashekar of Drop.ioLexy Funk of Brooklyn IndustriesDavid Steiner and Doug Steiner of Steiner StudiosSeth Frader of EnergyHubChris Parachini of Roberta'sTiffany Porter and Alex Shulhafer of Old HollywoodRob Ferra and Jeff Khan of Ferra DesignsNathalie Jordi, David Carrell, and Joel Horowitz of People's PopsLee Silverman of JackRabbit SportsSusan Povich and Ralph Gorham of Red Hook Lobster Pound
Inspired by homebrew recipes he discovered while an Associated Press correspondent in the Middle East, Steve Hindy (left) teamed up with neighbor Tom Potter (right) to found Brooklyn Brewery in 1988. With a logo created by Milton "I ♥ NY" Glaser, and managed and distributed from Brooklyn, the brewery still made its beer upstate until master brewer Garrett Oliver (center) designed and planned the Brooklyn plant in Williamsburg, which opened in 1996.
Rob Kalin, who says he grew up in a "woodshop" and makes furniture and stencils in his spare time, founded Etsy in 2005 as an online place for makers and buyers to connect directly. The online social commerce site specializes in handmade arts and crafts and vintage items. Its offices, which are based out of Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), are also home to "Etsy Labs," where members can take workshops, teach skills, and fashion crafts.
Drop.io, which offers free, secure file-sharing through digital-storage "drops" (and related products like the multimedia-sharing PressLift), was founded by Sam Lessin and Darshan Somashekar in 2007. It moved in 2008 from Manhattan to not far from the Etsy Labs in Brooklyn's DUMBO, where an East-coast version of California's Silicon Valley is taking hold in the waterfront district. (Pictured: drop.io's head of applications Steve Greenwood, in hat, and head of development Jacob Robbins, with green shirt, listening during a "Startup Storytellers" event at the DUMBO office.)
Brooklyn artist Lexy Funk began making messenger bags out of billboard vinyl in the 1990s, from the factory loft where she lived. In 2001 she expanded to her first apparel retail store in the neighborhood of Williamsburg, calling it Brooklyn Industries. Brooklyn Industries now comprises 14 storefronts nationwide and a thriving online retailer. The company's commitment to local artist-designers, plus organic and post-consumer fabrics, helped Funk win Ernst & Young's 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year award for the New York area.
Father-and-son property developers David and Doug Steiner grabbed hold of a 150,000 square foot plot on the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2004, doubled in a 2007 expansion, to create Steiner Studios, a facility which now hosts the largest soundstage on the East Coast and more than 200,000 square feet of office space. Taking advantage of NYC's filmmaking boom under Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the studios have housed production for "Revolutionary Road," "Inside Man," "The Producers," and more than a dozen other Hollywood films.
Seth Frader worked in the robotics industry and for NASA's Mars missions before bringing his electromechanical expertise to EnergyHub, the Brooklyn-based developer of "smart meters" to regulate home or office energy consumption. Frader's kit includes a dashboard interface like a cross between an iPod and your computer's task manager, giving the user simplicity and control. At the same time, EnergyHub sends data back to utility companies that can improve their grid management, proving a thoughtful entrepreneur may offer solutions to an energy crisis once considered just the domain of large corporations, legislators, and maybe a few environmental extremists.
A hallmark of Brooklyn's food life this past decade has been diners' increasing appetite for local, organic produce and the imaginative way city chefs have found to serve them. Brooklyn alone features 600 small community farms, and at least two of them supply Roberta's Pizza in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Started in 2008 by Chris Parachini, with partners Brandon Hoy and Carlo Mirarchi, the restaurant cooks its pies in a brick oven using fresh-made dough, and relies on its rooftop greenhouse and a nearby backyard garden for seasonal greens.
Vintage buyer Tiffany Porter cultivated over the years a time-leaping collection of nostalgia from roaring flapper to rockabilly to moxie mod. In fall 2008 she opened Old Hollywood in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to showcase and sell her wares, a boutique fine-tuned by partner Alex Shulhafer. The main display case in the store (pictured) includes a handmade, vintage-inspired bathing suit by Elizabeth O'Brien Berg, a mermaid tail necklace by Audilou, and a taxidermy pheasant, personally caught and stuffed for Tiffany.
From massive outdoor public artwork to rugged iron bar stools in a Lower Manhattan dive bar to a retail display at Barney's New York, the metalworks created at Ferra can be spotted all over New York and, increasingly, the entire northeastern United States. When founding Ferra Designs in 1989 with Jeff Khan (right), Rob Ferra (left), a blacksmith by trade, set out to infuse traditional techniques with a modern design edge. Today the firm incorporates computerized design and water-jet cutting technology, and today has branched into exotic metals, titanium, and resins, all out of a 10,000-square-foot metal shop in Brooklyn's waterfront Navy Yard.
It was an experiment: could a standard freezer pop be made healthier, fresher, and sustainably? Nathalie Jordi, David Carrell, and Joel Horowitz proved themselves right by creating treats and shaved ices with locally grown herbs (tarragon, mint) and fruits (strawberries, peaches). After growing their business and a local following at the weekly Brooklyn Flea market, the trio this spring opened a storefront location in Manhattan.
When Lee Silverman hit 210 pounds and found himself out of breath just going up a flight of stairs, he knew he needed a change. He started running, and has been hooked on marathoning since. In 2003, he founded JackRabbit Sports to help others make the same transformation by educating people about running and triathlon "and to make sure everyone makes the best choices in gear." Employees go through eight hours of training before being allowed to help customers select shoes, and treadmill analysis for shoe fit is standard. What's more, JackRabbit's training programs are legendary in the New York area.
Red Hook Lobster Pound boasts that it serves the freshest lobster in New York City - and with good reason: Maine native Susan Povich (pictured) cooks the lobsters that Ralph Gorham drives each week to Maine to select. The shellfish is prepared to order at their Red Hook storefront or one of a number of borough flea markets, street festivals, and city parks where the pair sets up shop. To date the couple has sold more than 12,000 live lobsters and 19,000 lobster rolls.
– Lars Russell