A recently renovated building, part of five former storefronts on Niagara Street, was once home to the first supermarket in Niagara Falls. More than a hundred years later, they could breed businesses of another kind.
The fixer-uppers are now home to TReC, a business incubator run by the Niagara Global Tourism Institute. Director Patrick Whalen says the goal is to help people take their business ideas and make them a reality, especially in tourism technology—a field he says is a natural for a city that hosts millions of tourists every year.
"Maybe we can brand the place as the tourism technology capital of the world," Whalen said. "We provide resources for them to help them get that idea out of their head and on a piece of paper so they can launch a business.
So, what exactly is tourism technology? Whalen says think of companies like Airbnb, Uber, and Yelp.
Entrepreneurs who join TReC pay a $100 monthly fee. They can have access to meeting spaces, offices, and internet. Perhaps more importantly, they can connect with advisors and other people who might help them get their businesses off the ground.
Nicholas Hurd started Niagara Falls Adventure Tours last year. It's a one-hour walking tour of the sites around Niagara Falls. Now, he's looking to grow his business from his apartment to something bigger, so he became a member of TReC.
"It's opened up a huge opportunity for us. Just having resources," Hurd said. "I've been here three days and already I have resources. I've been able to have a conversation with a gentleman from the state park that's opened up a door for me."
Sarah Battaglia owns Olive Ridley, a local company that supplies recycled paint. While her business is outside the tourism-technology realm, she joined TRec too.
"Here I am an entrepreneur in Niagara Falls in my own little world and now there's going to be a community for me to tap into either a resource or to benefit from the resources," Battaglia said.
Whalen says in their first week, they already have 12 businesses on board. Eventually, as more members join, the incubator will be funded through the membership fees.