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Kumon Math and Reading Center of Norwalk

Case Studies & Success Stories

Kumon Math and Reading Center of Norwalk

Dulce Gandhi, Center Director

For more than 50 years, Kumon’s after-school academic enrichment program has helped children achieve success worldwide. Kumon strives to instill in children the desire to achieve and the motivation to learn on their own. Students advance through the program at their own pace. The emphasis on individualized learning helps each student become focused, motivated and self-reliant.

Dulce Gandhi, Director of the Kumon Math and Reading Center of Norwalk, talks about  venturing out on her own to start a business that helps students learn independently.

“My goal as a Kumon instructor is to help every student gain confidence and excel in everything they do. For many of my students, Kumon has become a second chance. For others, Kumon has accelerated their learning and exploring above grade-level education and given them access to academically talented programs in high school and beyond. The pace of the program is tailored to each individual student’s needs, encouraging each child to work at their fullest potential, in order to not only gain knowledge and mastery but also confidence in themselves. I love what I do and enjoy mentoring my students to achieve their dreams.

After obtaining my MBA degree, I worked for a major pharmaceutical company as a project manager and principal statistical analyst for 16 years. I truly enjoyed what I did but there came a time when I realized that I was spending a lot of time on work and not enough time dedicated to my kids. So, I started looking for opportunities where I could still give myself challenge, still keep growing, but also have a nice work-life balance. I did the research and I felt I could make an impact on Norwalk students and that’s the reason I opened a Kumon franchise in Norwalk in 2012. I had been a ‘Kumon Mom’ since 2003 before becoming a Kumon owner and instructor. As a Kumon Mom, I had seen both my kids excel well beyond school. My daughter has graduated from UPenn and now works on Wall Street. My son is at Lehigh University. I know first-hand what this program has done for my own children.

We now have about 20 to 30 students and five to seven instructors at any given time. We take students from three years-old to high school. They start by working with a teacher and two or three other kids until they are able to actually be working independently in the classroom. The goal of the Kumon program is to get each child working to their potential and to get them to grade-level as soon as possible. Then to get them working from six months to three years above grade-level. A kindergartener working with me for a year should be reading at second or third grade-level. Our math goals for students are to get them to multiplication by first grade, pre-algebra by fourth grade, and advanced algebra by sixth grade.

Fifty percent of my students’ families have learned about Kumon by word of mouth. I am a strong believer in giving back to the community and you will find me in and around town actively engaged in various school fundraisers, cultural programs, and theater shows. I am a firm supporter and an active member of the Norwalk PTO Council and the Norwalk Education Foundation. I am also a board member of NICE, the Norwalk International Cultural Exchange. I understand and appreciate what my community is doing for me and this is my time to give back. Being close to the community helps me create an engaging and positive classroom environment for each student.

After 11 years of doing this, I’m still learning every single day. Constantly learning how to help students learn easier.”

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HMTX Industries

Case Studies & Success Stories

HMTX Industries

Harlan Stone, CEO

From floor to roof, the new headquarters building for HMTX Industries in Norwalk is among the “greenest” in CT.

Nearly six years after unveiling plans for a new headquarters, a Norwalk company moved in to Connecticut’s newest “green” building at 29 Oakwood Avenue in September 2022. HMTX sells decorative flooring for use by builders, dubbed “luxury vinyl tile” in the industry. Sales have boomed since HMTX won a supply contract with Home Depot several years ago, with the company listing annual revenue currently at $900 million. The new building functions as a design center, with rapid-prototype machines able to crank out flooring planks with specific patterns and textures in roughly an hour. Sustainable elements in the design of the HMTX building include solar panels that provide more than enough power for the building; rainwater storage systems for plumbing; and stilts that lift the building above the ground, allowing for wildlife to wander across the property unimpeded. Two waterfalls have also been created on the property.

HMTX CEO Harlan Stone explains that the new building is a natural expression of how the company brings beauty and sustainability together.

“We’ve been in Connecticut since 1985. We outgrew the small office we were leasing in Greenwich, For about the same cost, we were able to buy a 1,200 square-foot building in Norwalk in 2000. That was our original building on our Oakwood Avenue campus that we still occupy. Then, we bought land next to us and built a very modern, beautiful building designed by Gensler, one of the leading architectural firms in the world. In 2016, we began the idea for our new world headquarters building, which was completed in 2022. It’s about 24,000 square feet in interior space and another 1,000 in outdoor rooftop space.

This has been a tremendous project with Jason McLennan, one of the leading architects in the sustainability world; incredible; visionary. I’ve known him as a business associate, working with us on product design, and as a friend, over the last 10 years. Before we decided to put the first shovel in the ground, we went to Jason to help design this building. We intended always to design it with the highest level of sustainability. It is currently the building that is being dubbed, and we think rightfully so, as the greenest building in Connecticut.

We are at a much higher sustainability standard than other buildings and not only for energy usage. We don’t have any burning fuels. All of our electricity comes from photovoltaic cells. We have rain gardens that capture all of our rainwater. The building incorporates all the natural features of the land around us. We sit on top of the outcropping that was formed by the ancient glacier moving through Norwalk that created the Norwalk River, which is about 200 feet below us. The building is actually hovering over the rock and built on stilts above the rock. We have 60 or 70 operable windows that make the building full of natural light.

We think what we do inside the building is actually the most important thing. It really inspires creativity that the building looks out on nature. We’re next to Route 7 but we don’t see it from anywhere in the building. We see a forest; we see rocks; we see gardens; we see pathways, bridges and boardwalks. The new building outside is interconnected with our existing buildings. We have multiple water features that create both a sense of calm and also drown out the noise that might have been heard from the highway. So, it’s really a wonderful place for people to think, to be creative, to collaborate. And we hope that this building will be a beacon for the kind of the 21st century approach to business we have inside the building.

We have a lot of creative space, including rapid prototyping to produce flooring samples that used to take six months to do. Now, we can go from an idea on a computer screen that we can amend and even project onto the floor. It’s an iterative process back and forth. Then we send it to a 3D printing device to produce a sample to show our client, our partner, our stores, and we can go into production almost immediately. It just takes out a ridiculous amount of wasted time that the analog Gutenberg printing world used to know.

We now have 40 to 50 people working on our campus. The new building has meeting rooms, a few executive offices and a common space we call the Great Hall, which is a place where we can have events and host members of the community. We hope to have customers, employees, designers, architects, scientists, associations and community charities all being able to utilize the space in the building. We want to make a big effort to become part of the community more deeply.

Community outreach is an important aspect of this building, and how we can use it to build our relationships with the community, whether philanthropic or hosting schools and other institutions that want to collaborate and have a place where they can come and have an evening event. We want it to become a place for celebrations of some of the accomplishments that our city has. We’ve loved Norwalk and we’ve been here for 25 years now. We are very indebted to the community that has provided us such a wonderful place to work. A lot of our employees live here in town as well. We really are happy here.

This is now a fourth generation family business. We had a leadership position in design, then everyone caught up to us. We had to leap-frog forward and really take our design to the next level. So how do you turn flooring into fashion? You can really inspire people to express themselves with your design and through the beauty of your product form. So, we felt that this was our only way to regain our leadership. It wasn’t just having an awesome design element. Sustainability also became a critical feature and not just with our product building materials. We have actually built three highly sustainable buildings. This is the new standard we’re taking.  Bringing beauty and sustainability together as one. This is critical to the statement that building materials need to be beautiful and sustainable without sacrifice. It’s good for business, it’s good for the planet, and it’s a good investment.”

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Case Studies & Success Stories


Austin McChord, Founder and Former CEO

I grew up in Newtown, went off to college in Rochester, NY and came back home afterward to start Datto. When the startup literally outgrew my basement and became a real business, I ended up moving it to Norwalk because it wasn’t an enormous commute change for the employees. Subsequently, as the business grew, I found that Norwalk was a really good spot. It sits at an interesting intersection of being commutable from a really good radius inside and outside Connecticut.

Datto solves data backup and disaster recovery problems for small- to medium-sized businesses. For us, attracting talent to the Connecticut area has been all about quality of life and the fact that you can find a good place to live that’s so much more affordable compared with New York City. There are a lot of folks that also want to leave the City and have a house with a lawn, a dog and all those things. So, it was very attractive in that sense to build the company in Norwalk. It’s a good balance because the City is still accessible but you can live a more suburban lifestyle.

Datto now has about 600 employees in the Norwalk area. It’s able to pull super-senior talent like a CFO who lives in Greenwich or New Canaan who doesn’t want to commute to New York City anymore. At the same time, it’s able to hire customer service representatives that live in Shelton to come and work in the office. So, this is a good spot to gather all of that talent. It’s this unique mix of access and affordability that was the case of how we ended up in Norwalk and decided to stay in Norwalk.  I continue to believe that Norwalk has an incredibly diverse mix compared to almost any other town in Connecticut. It has an actual, thriving downtown. It’s a safe and nice place to live.

When I started the company in 2007, I bootstrapped the business, which meant I didn’t raise any money for the first six years. After that, I raised money from a venture capital firm up in Boston and subsequently from a firm in New York. Then eventually, I sold it to a private equity firm but still maintained a big ownership percentage and was still CEO. After 11 years, I stepped aside and my CFO became CEO. He then took the company public in 2020, which was always a long-term ambition of the business. In June of 2022, Datto acquired Infocyte, a Texas-based cyber threat detection and response company. The company was then merged into a firm called Kaseya. The Datto brand still exists. It’s now Datto, a Kaseya company.

When starting s business here, the Connecticut Innovations folks can be really helpful and some of the DECD loans that you can get for hiring and building businesses in Connecticut are really good. We were able to do that and it was very helpful for Datto. We also made sure to work with local banks. You’d be surprised as a founder how much local institutions are willing to rally and support you and want to see you succeed. That’s helpful. It’s actually sometimes a lot better to become the big fish in the small pond than trying to stand out in say, San Francisco, which is impossible. Going public and when Kaseya became involved, they saw a fully formed company.

One of the things that’s been pretty amazing about the whole Datto journey is how many people who have started or built other things in the same industry in the lower Fairfield County area. There are a bunch of startups now that serve managed service providers, which is Datto’s channel, to reach small businesses in the Connecticut area. That’s been pretty cool to see happen.

Right now, I run a med-tech company that makes of all kinds of things. Like a toilet seat that can take your blood pressure reading, which is kind of wild. There’s an enormous market and opportunities for devices to manage chronic conditions and the whole process where healthcare is moving to the home. I continue to invest in businesses in the greater Connecticut area, including a cyber security company called Zorus that is based in Norwalk.

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Snyder Group, Inc.

Case Studies & Success Stories

Snyder Group, Inc.

David Snyder, President & Creative Director

Snyder Group is focused on fine-tuning every part of the marketing and sales funnel for their clients. They believe in the complete integration of marketing, sales, and technology teams. The group is made up of strategists, designers, copywriters and coders who share an interdisciplinary approach to achieving objectives.

President & Creative Director David Snyder talks about embracing the challenges, opportunities and rewards of building a digital agency in a virtual space.

“I lived and worked in New York City for a number of years before I took a job as a managing director at a branding firm in Stamford. Then, I opened my own business in Norwalk in 1996. When COVID hit in 2020, we basically went to a virtual model. Two years later, we were still working primarily virtually. And we are in the digital marketing space. So, it really made a lot of sense for us to go to a non-brick-and-mortar environment and it’s really working wonderfully.”

“Our entire office is virtual at this point. We have folks who live in Norwalk. We have folks who live in Stamford. We have folks who live in Bridgeport. We now have folks who live in the Midwest and out west. So, we also expanded where we can hire from. The virtual work environment for us has been a real win.”

“We’re a boutique agency by design. Just by virtue of living, working and playing in the area, we’ve had the opportunity to work with – and still work with – a lot of Norwalk-based companies. Our client mix is primarily business-to-business, encompassing manufacturing technology, life sciences among other things. Education is also a vertical of ours. Many of our clients are headquartered here or regionally but they’re selling nationally and internationally.”

“When COVID hit, it supercharged everything that can happen online. Whether it’s a Zoom meeting or anything else, we had been doing it for quite some time prior. What it did for our clients is that a lot of the spend in advertising budgets that would typically be put towards things like trade shows  and traditional media moved to digital.  A lot of companies got very innovative with how they were going to market and we got busier and busier. We were a little frightened at first like everybody was when COVID first hit but it turned out there were silver linings. What happened was a terrible thing but it did push some innovation and different ways of thinking about not just marketing but work and life in general.”

“We’ve always been a marketing company, first and foremost, leveraging all mediums and media that work best for specific objectives. When marketing automation first came into play, our B2B clients focusing on lead generation were the first to use it. We realized that the overall marketing trend was moving that way and got more involved with data-driven marketing applications.”

“Being a data-driven marketing company means more accountability. The types of media we engage in have clear performance indicators from data points attached. In driving awareness and brand through impressions where you’re working at the top of the funnel, we want to know what those numbers are and what sources are getting us the best traction for those goals. If it’s about getting people to the consideration point, we need to know what data points are supporting getting more contacts in the database, creating more engagement with email campaigns and things like that. Ultimately for businesses, it’s about where marketing dollars are actually converting into sales. Once you put that model in place, you really have successful marketing in play.”

“We can all talk about the numbers but at the end of the day, we’re a people business. Understanding communications, having the ability to listen and then obviously to deliver to goals. But the difference in our company is in our culture. Our retention is good internally and our client base is the same way. It’s transparency. It’s honesty. What you see is what you get.”

“We work with some really large Fortune 500 companies and I believe that smaller agencies like ours are now able to do a lot more than we used to. I worked at big agencies before, however, I enjoy where we’re at right now. We’re a lot more flexible, and agile, we can facilitate things faster.”

“Working in Norwalk and being part of the community, we’ve always had close ties to City Hall, and we’ve done a lot of work with the municipality over the years. We also have a list of Norwalk nonprofits that we’ve partnered with. We continue to have a real connection to the community.”

“In terms of our company culture, we try to get together once or twice a month in person with the team. We have to sometimes either bus or fly our folks in to take advantage of that. We make a point of doing that to get some synergy and mentoring opportunities going on with the team. It often happens in Norwalk because there are plenty of great venues. So, we take full advantage of what Norwalk has to offer. Like I said, I’ve lived, worked and still do play in Norwalk. This entire area is a great place to be and I think Norwalk is probably the shining example.”

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New England Fashion + Design Association

Case Studies & Success Stories

New England Fashion + Design Association

Irina Simeonova, Founder

The New England Fashion + Design Association was founded in 2006. Its mission is to provide knowledge and industry training in the field of fashion and design. NEF+DA believes that fashion is not a craft, it is a profession and lifestyle. Located in South Norwalk, the curriculum draws on deep, rich traditions perfected in European couture houses, as well as from contemporary design techniques. All courses are taught by professors from the best fashion colleges in NYC and guest lecturers are established professionals from the industry. This provides students with fresh, hip fashion experience and the skills to bring fashion to life.

NEF+DA founder Irina Simeonova talks about discovering passion for fashion and building a creative business in Norwalk.   

“I have been in Norwalk since 2002. I came here as an employee of a college that had a problem with its program. I rewrote the program action plan and then it became extremely successful. That experience created in my mind the need for young students to have a creative space where they can come together afterschool and when they finish high school and want to continue working in the fashion field.

I made it like a community center in the beginning. That was the original idea but then somebody found me. She was the mother of an autistic child and she said, ‘My child has never been so engaged as when she’s in your center. You need to make a class for her.’ So, I actually  wrote the first curriculum for her. This is how the business got started. It was only because I met this autistic child who was very happy to learn something and she stayed with me for three years. This helped pull in quite a lot of people and it turned into a little school. We now have students from ages 7 to 72.

In the beginning, I made the classes separate by age. Later, I discovered this didn’t make sense because they all love being together – the young ones with the older ones. It’s such a pleasant experience. They come here and they’re happy. There is this constant sense of happiness and they learn a lot of things.

I also run summer camps. I scout for talent and discover talented children. I ask the parents to allow me to teach their kids and I get a nice group of extremely talented young people. By now, I have actually placed more than 40 people in the best colleges around the world in fashion design.

So, it’s kind of a magical. It’s a very good experience every day. It’s almost like a playground but by playing, we teach in a very professional way and everybody comes out really prepared. My students are the ones that want to enter college and they are the best prepared students going into college.

We teach between 30 and 40 people a year. In summertime, we have about 200 during the summer camp. I have some students that have stayed with me for up to nine years but the usual time is three to four years. They continue upgrading their skills. Many of them just keep going. It’s an ongoing process. It’s amazing passion. So when it’s based on passion, passion doesn’t stop, right?

Most of my students are from the Fairfield County area but we have some people coming from Greater Hartford. We have had people coming from Illinois and as far as California. They stay in hotels when they’re here with us. I don’t know of any other school with our uniqueness in professional level education.

I have never done anything in my life but fashion design. The students that come to me are the same type of people. They just love to design and make things. I actually tell them, ‘I’m not your teacher. I’m just one of the kids. I just happen to know a little more than you know.’ I’m teaching the gang but you know, we like playing together. When they’re young, they absorb super-fast and they make my life worthwhile.

When the environment in the school is so stimulating for students, even after they finish they like to come back. Some of my students graduate colleges and they come back for more. I have never had a compliment like this before in my life.

In my business, I’ve discovered that it’s so good for the soul during crisis. Even during the pandemic, we were still in business. The business didn’t shrink. We did some online classes but when we were able to reopen, immediately everybody came back.

My challenge is that I want to bring the business to the next level and elevate it to a degree-granting program. I also have this idea to grow it into a design center in Norwalk and to pull in all the creatives and to make it a business center selling unique products. That’s my aim. So this is where my mind is right now.

What’s nice about Norwalk is that it’s very close to New York. When you need supplies, you can just get on a train. It takes an hour and five minutes. It’s also interesting for my students. I do field trips with them and take them to all the events. I teach at Parsons School of Design. So, we are all connected. Being close to New York City makes a big difference. You can actually bring the culture here to Norwalk and it feels like you’re in New York.

The City of Norwalk was extremely supportive when I rented this space in the train station. It was not renovated at the time. I had a meeting with the Chamber of Commerce and they agreed to hold quite a big breakfast in the train station. After that breakfast, the train station was renovated by the City to look very presentable. That helped my business to grow, which was very, very nice.”

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Get Joy

Case Studies & Success Stories

Get Joy

Get Joy is building the first metaverse dog park.

Get Joy, an online dog food retailer based in Norwalk, announced it was building the first dog park in the metaverse, the virtual-reality space touted as the future of human interaction. The park, called the Get Joy Dog Zone, will open as a site to host virtual and non-profit activities that support dog wellness, according to the company. Users can interact with virtual dogs at the park using virtual-reality headsets. No word yet on the rules for leashing and disposal of virtual dog waste. Get Joy offers subscriptions and one-time purchases of fresh meals, snacks and freeze-dried food for dogs on its website. A 16-ounce bag of the brand’s freeze-dried beef dog food sells for $35 for a one-time purchase at

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One Fun Company

Case Studies & Success Stories

One Fun Company

Alli DiVincenzo, CEO

As parents, we know that proper, consistent handwashing is critical to keep our kids, family, and community safe. However, getting your kids to maintain a healthy, daily handwashing routine isn’t always easy, especially if your child has sensory triggers. With this in mind, the One Fun Company founders set out to rethink the handwashing process from a kid’s point of view.

Founder and CEO Alli DiVincenzo talks about how ideas and innovation are working hand-in-hand in Norwalk.

“When my son was young, my husband and I struggled to get him to properly wash his hands after school and before dinner. He loved playing with tactile toys, such as water beads, slime, and anything that popped, but washing up with boring, old hand soap was a struggle.

I knew I couldn’t be alone in this handwashing battle. Kids want to have fun, even while doing daily routines. Then I had a light bulb moment. I couldn’t change my kids but I could change their soap. Just like that, the idea for SPLATZ was born. This naturally fun hand soap starts with a satisfying burst that makes washing up a fun treat instead of a dreaded task.

Since my background is in product design, not soap chemistry, I connected with Boston-based scientists Jeff Karp, Ph.D., and Yuhan Lee, Ph.D. With young kids of their own, they loved the idea and together we spent hours in our kitchens developing our unique formula.

Though we started from a kid-centric point of view, we knew we wanted a product that worked as hard as it played. It also had to look good, smell good, and use clean, natural ingredients. Because we care about the environment almost as much as we care about our kids, being biodegradable and packed in reusable or recyclable jars was also at the top of our must-have list. All told, it was a tall, daunting order. After many fails and quiet lulls, we created a shelf-stable prototype ready to test with kids and families in January 2020.

In March 2020, the world was flipped upside down with a global pandemic and the simple act of washing one’s hands took on a new importance. Our new popping hand soap formula drew attention and kids used sample bottles enthusiastically. Parents gave us feedback and the common thread was that kids wanted more.

In November 2020, we launched SPLATZ which, at that point, were made by hand. Thanks to helpful feedback from our customers, we continued to tweak and improve our formulas and offerings. Today, SPLATZ is in homes across the U.S., improving lives one bursting pod at a time. We’ve also expanded our product line to include SPLODEZ, an exploding bubble bath and body wash.

It’s exciting to be part of the Norwalk ecosystem. When we first launched our product, we were up in the Boston area to be closer to the scientists. We hired a small team and they were able to figure out the formula. Then I wanted to be closer to the company as CEO, so we moved everyone down to Norwalk. I’ve always had my sights on Norwalk as an up-and-coming city with great energy and so many fun pockets and interesting people. The guys in the One Fun lab were excited to move to the area. The whole team is in Norwalk now. 

We needed a factory space, light industrial, and it would be a bonus to have a front office. I felt like we hit the jackpot with this manufacturing facility at 5 Merritt Place. It had been an old woodworking and cabinetry making space. It was obviously quite dusty when we found it, so we had to do a really deep clean on it because we’re making soap. We needed to have a loading dock because we ship pallets. We really wanted to be on the first floor and it’s a one-story building. So, it really fits all of our needs now. We do all of our manufacturing and all of our bottling here and then we fulfill it, whether we ship it directly to customers or to a retailer. Everything’s done in the factory.

We’ve sold about 30,000 units so far, mostly direct-to-consumer, then Amazon and then to some specialty retailers throughout the country. If you go into any grocery store or drugstore or pharmacy, you will see a plethora of personal care and bar soaps for babies 0 to 24 months. There is this white space between ages 3 and 12 where there are no products designed specifically for kids from a kid’s point of view. They might have a baby product but then no product that’s really designed for kids. There’s a big wide open space for us. We’ve started with soap and bubble bath and we could potentially move to shampoo and conditioner.

We’re a very small team. We have three full-time employees; myself and then two in operations in the lab. We also have some part-time line workers. Finding consistent help to work in the lab has been kind of challenging but it’s been a really interesting adventure. Just the fact that we’re selling a hand soap during a pandemic and that our mission is to help families and kids have better hygiene routines and enjoy the process. We’ve heard from a lot of our customers that it has, in fact, changed their habits and routines and their general feelings about hand-washing. So, in that sense, we feel like we’ve really made progress and are hitting our mission and our goals.

Digital marketing is key to launching any product. So you have to spend on Facebook, Instagram, Google, have an email marketing campaign, SMS text messaging, all that good stuff. We were also lucky to have some organic press. We were featured on The Today Show and that brought an incredible influx of customers and sales. We were featured on CNN’s top 25 list of stocking stuffers; that moved the needle quite a bit. We were in Parents Magazine. We were in Real Simple Magazine. We’re currently in the Uncommon Goods fall catalog where we’re doing a custom product and also an exclusive product for them for the winter. And so they’ve been a big customer of ours.

We’re really excited about our subscriber program where direct customers can save 10% or more and get on auto-ship. You don’t have to go to the store and buy your hand soap. You don’t have to think about it anymore. It just automatically ships to your door. After someone purchases, an email is sent to the customer asking them for a review. Every review that comes in, we read in our daily management meeting. It’s just fun to hear and sometimes people send in photos or videos. People will often buy our product and then bring it on Tik-Tok or Instagram or Facebook because it’s so visual. It helps us grow because they’re promoting our product. There was one woman who had four million views in a matter of days and that was truly organic.

We’re really excited for this next stage of growth. We’re looking forward to the next fundraising round and maybe getting in some consumer packaged goods veterans who’ve done this before to help advise us through the process. But we’re young, we’re nimble, we want to learn and we’re just really excited to be to be in Norwalk. I love that we’re walking distance from Metro North. I love that you can walk to SoNo Baking Company or Spacecat Brewing. The guys that moved down from Boston didn’t know what to expect and now they’re like, ‘Norwalk’s cool!’  On our Instagram, I recently posted before-and-after photos of our little office space. We took it from this really gritty, old space and made it into one very happy, fun front office.”

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East Coast Kombucha Company

Case Studies & Success Stories

East Coast Kombucha Company

Steve Gaskin, CEO/Co-Founder

East Coast Kombucha Company, located in South Norwalk, is an artisanal-brewer of organic, probiotic-packed kombucha, which is fermented tea. Partners Steve Gaskin, Glynise Gaskin and Claudia Duvall are committed to brewing and distributing kegs, bottles and cans of the best-tasting kombucha available using only the finest ingredients (locally sourced whenever possible) – with a portion of their sales being donated to local charities.  Their mission is to make a positive impact on their community, their customers’ lives, their employees, and on the environment.

The spectacular brewery and tap room is located in a historic textile factory built in 1903 – just steps away from the SoNo train station and a few minutes from The SoNo Collection shopping center. For decades, this building housed the Park-Kit Safety Equipment Company, which manufactured first-aid kits.

The brewery and tap room are available for private parties and events, offering creative packages where guests can do private tastings and take a behind-the-scenes brewery tour. Free  tours are offered every Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and take about 30 minutes. Visitors are invited to sign up and make a reservation in advance.

Co-Founder and CEO Steve Gaskin spills the tea on how East Coast Kombucha formed a fruitful,  healthy business in Norwalk.

“I live in Weston, our business partner is from Wilton and so we knew we wanted a place relatively close to us. We really started looking at different spaces in 2017. We knew we needed to have a certain size. Then, as we progressed, we figured we would need a bit more space to build bigger and grow into it, as opposed to starting smaller and having to keep moving. So, we had a unique set of parameters for the space because it had to be a certain size for the amount of tanks that we have. The space also had to support the weight of the tanks when you put all that liquid in. So, you see there’s a lot of limitations. We were looking for kind of a needle in a haystack as it were. On top of that, we wanted a location to have a tasting room where we could interact with the community and make it a destination.

We looked at a bunch of places on the I-95 corridor. As a manufacturer, being near the highway was important to us. Norwalk is good for us because of the location and the vibe. We like the history of Norwalk, all the past generations that have done what we do here. I’m from  Detroit, so there’s a lot of that manufacturing history here that I like personally.

I won’t lie. It’s been challenging with the pandemic and all. The good news is that we’re now in a lot more retail locations thanks to our sales rep, and we’re starting to see all the positives coming in from a growing company. We’re really happy with that. At the same time, there are still a lot of challenges with supply chain, pricing inflation and getting good staff.

We’re certified USDA organic. We buy as much of our ingredients locally as we can, as well as hire locally. We currently have five employees. It fluctuates during the summer with attending farmers markets and that type of thing. We are distributed primarily in Connecticut with a bit of distribution in New York and Massachusetts. We have a distributor helping us get into more locations.  Most people are buying kombucha primarily in the grocery store. But deli is also a big market for us, especially with high-end delis around here. If you’re going to spend $14 on a nice sandwich, you don’t want to wash it down with a sugary soda. So, we’ve doubled our production and sales each year so far.

Our brand is really built on taste.  Our big point of difference is that ours doesn’t have that vinegary taste a lot of people associate with kombucha. So, no matter how many times we say it and how many Instagram and Facebook posts we put out, unless people taste it, we’re just barking at them. So having an opportunity to get in front of them, hand them a cup and say ‘try it,’ that’s everything. Farmers markets are really good venues for that because we get a very targeted audience experiencing a nice, relaxing day and they’re looking for answers. We want to be the company that has answers for them.

Our tasting room is another option. Getting people to come here and see the building. It’s such an incredible, amazing place to get excited about. Being able to show people this very unique production process that’s unlike anything else because you’re actually growing something. So, I think these things are the right combination. It’s a nice to have people come on a Friday or Saturday afternoon and experience something very different. And hopefully have them leave with something that’s going to help them with their life and promote better health and well-being.

We formulated some of the original flavors in our basement and then branched off into other flavors. We still have some of the core flavors and then we try to rotate to seasonals, so that we always have six to seven offerings. The seasonals offer a little bit of variety to our consumers and the retailers like to have something different each month that they can rotate, and that sets us apart. The blueberry ginger flavor is our bestseller. That initial recipe has always been the same. Four months is the shelf life, as long as it’s refrigerated. It’s never going to spoil but it will keep fermenting over time and that could change the taste a little bit.

It all has to be refrigerated when sold. Obviously, that’s a challenge right there. We’re limited by the places that can take it because it’s even harder to get refrigerated space than shelf space. So we’re constantly fighting with other brands to get that little piece. We really try to go in and say, ‘Either you have a kombucha or you don’t. If you don’t, then give it a taste.’ We switched from bottles to cans during the pandemic, which was a good thing for us. Because at that point, most competitors were in bottles.

It’s an easier entry when retailers don’t know our brand for us to come in and say we’re local. And if they don’t have a kombucha, it’s easier for them to at least try it one time and gets us on the shelf. Once we get on the shelf, then people start trying it and then hopefully enjoy it and buy it more.

The ideal kombucha consumer? That’s a good question. We’re really still trying to figure that out because it’s all over the place a lot of times. I think it skews a little bit more toward females 18 to 40. We have a lot of a lot of college-age women come in with their moms, and they say, ‘Hey Mom, try this!’ Then very health-conscious people who take care of their themselves. Kombucha is going to rebalance your gut system. It’s going to help with your immune system and it’s just going to detoxify you and hopefully make you feel better. Without the calories and without the artificial things.

Sometimes we’ll get people who are just looking for answers and they say, ‘I’ve been drinking soda all my life. My doctor said I need to change.’  Or, ‘I’ve heard something about it, let me try it.’ We have doctors, some trainers, a bike store setting up accounts. We have a lot of products in a big chain of gyms that have juice bars. That’s been a really good partnership. Places where they sell fish are also really good for us, because I think it’s that same demographic of people who are really conscious about what they put in their bodies.

It also makes an amazing cocktail mixer, and that’s a huge market for us as well. Plus, its’ nice to have Spacecat Brewing right next door. The brewing community has been really fantastic. It’s a real community of sharing ideas and equipment. It’s almost like this brotherhood/sisterhood of people just trying to make something that is not processed. And it’s kind of an old-school process when you look at it. A bunch of metal and clamps and hoses. It’s almost out of the 1800s, right? It’s an old-school manufacturing way that doesn’t use a lot of computers. You’re pumping in your liquids and you’re adding ingredients and then you’re letting nature do its thing. There’s something really special. We all take the same pride in our product and our processes and anytime that we can, we help each other.

We have a lot of regulars that come in every Saturday religiously. We love the customers. We love to talk to them. It’s so satisfying when people come in and they say, ‘I drink it every day, and it’s making me feel better.’ It’s really rewarding for myself and for my team who work so hard, just to get that one-on-one feedback. It personally energizes me.”

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Norwalk Conservatory of the Arts

Case Studies & Success Stories

Norwalk Conservatory of the Arts

Danny Loftus George, President

The mission of the Norwalk Conservatory of the Arts is to provide exemplary arts education to aspiring professional students, make a positive impact in the local community of arts, and create connections in the music, theatre, and film world that will last a lifetime.

Founded in 2018 by industry creatives Danny and Ricky Loftus George with the goal of creating a college that was equal parts training and opportunity, it was initially known as the LINK Program and has developed into a full two-year college conservatory known as “NoCo” today. With close proximity to New York City, many students working on Broadway and television, a faculty of pivotal artists, small class sizes, and a curriculum built for today’s industry, it is envisioned to become a premier college of the arts.

The Conservatory plans to welcome its first class of two-year-program students to live and study at its Norwalk campus in August 2022.

NoCo and The City of Norwalk have also launched an annual Broadway in the Park summer outdoor concert series in Mathews Park, welcoming a slew of incredible performers to sing favorite Disney classics. With the beautiful park setting, food trucks and some surprises for kids, Broadway in the Park is a not-to-be missed summer event in Fairfield County.

NoCo additionally presents an annual haunted house adventure held in partnership with The SoNo Collection, with immersive events created in the spirit of Halloween.  Produced by Broadway artists and crew members, these live-performance-art events can put a scare into even the bravest of adults, while also delighting young children, to get everyone in the Halloween spirit.

Co-Founder and President Danny George set the stage for how NoCo found its home in Norwalk.

“I have been working in higher education for the last 10 years. I’ve done quite a number of different jobs for a bunch of different schools. I work with over 40 colleges presently, doing everything from producing senior showcases, to bringing in new professors, to connecting them to the industry, to writing curriculum. You name it. And so, for the past five years, we’ve been building programming to launch a proper four-year college. It’s what was referred to as the LINK Program. It’s now obviously called ‘NoCo,’ as we picked Norwalk as our home.

We wanted to be close enough to New York City but still give students a safe and suburban atmosphere in which to learn, and in which to fail, and in which to succeed. So, Norwalk, Stamford and Bridgeport started to make the most sense.

We felt that Bridgeport was too far away because our faculty is coming in from New York City. We’re bringing in big casting directors and agents and directors and choreographers and really big names. We want our students to work with the best, and so Norwalk won us over. It’s perfect. It’s quaint and still charming but also a big and growing town, and we wanted to be a part of that growth.

Ultimately Stamford has UConn and we thought Norwalk was really primed for a college or university. It’s getting to just about 100,000 residents and that is typically the point when you see a college or university enter a city.  So, Norwalk is ready for something like this to accelerate its growth.

In Norwalk, we’ve built relationships and collaborations. We work with Stepping Stones Museum for Children quite a bunch. We’ve worked with the City. We work with the Wall Street Theater. We work with The SoNo Collection, which is a big partnership.

We have six different buildings. Our main building is called ‘The Flagship,’ and that is just for NoCo use. Right next to it, we have ‘The Vault,’ and that’s a partnership with Juice Media. There we teach kids how to shoot commercials. Next door, we use for classes and performances. Right across the street is the gymnastics and cheerleading academy where students learn how to tumble. So, our dancers learn how to tumble and our television and film students learn how to do stunt work. We work with Factory Underground in the back behind us. Students learn how to do voiceover work there. And also The Spot, which is a big dance studio space for us.

We’re about to start renovations on our dormitories. These kids are 18 years old and we need to make sure that they’re safe and secure. So, there’s ID access and resident advisors and all those things that a traditional school has. We don’t have a traditional meal plan but we are partnering with several restaurants in the downtown area. The idea is that students can use their card at certain restaurants, so it helps them a bunch. And our students get to eat some great food, too. And we’ve been very strategic about our partnerships there, about which restaurants make sense. We want to be inclusive of all types of cuisines and all dietary requirements. We want to make sure that we have something for everybody and proximity is important.

We are a true not-for-profit organization. We are here for every dollar to go towards helping kids who can’t afford to go to school. So, organizations that support that mission we tend to flock to and cling to. Especially restaurants.

In terms of our student population, we do pre-college, which is a chance for high school students to see if this is a fit for them. And then we have full-time college. So year one, which starts in August 2022, we’ll have 50 students. About a third of those students are from pre-college, already enrolled. The other two-thirds will come from our national auditions tour. We offer two-year programs in three areas of study. Hopefully we will be granted accreditation to become a Bachelor’s program. If that happens, then we will expand to a four-year college.

Our goal is to really reinvent the Wall Street corridor. We would like to just build an entire campus there. We think it’s the perfect area for a campus. Our goal is to have 1,000 students by year five, and about 3,000 students by year 10.

I’ve never built a college from scratch before and there are so many things that you can’t even imagine that just come up, that are so difficult. If you’re running a not-for-profit, raising finances and capital is always the biggest hurdle. But we know that our next big hurdle is going to be accreditation. Our funding is almost completely private. Our biggest way of fundraising has been big events, Broadway in the Park and the Haunted House. Those events generate quite a bit of income and they’re big fundraisers for us. So that is that is how we’ve been able to stay afloat. We’re about to bring on a director of development and that’s an exciting change in terms of opening up a lot more grants and public support.

We’ve actually been very fortunate in getting a lot of in-kind donations as well. Some have been incredibly generous. The SoNo Collection. Norwalk Hospital. Stop & Shop. Home Depot. It’s a lot of small things here and there but small acts of kindness lead to greater things. I think we’re getting the City to understand the value, and I think that a lot of individuals have been tremendous and understanding of that value. Sabrina Church and Jessica Vonashek are just the bee’s knees.

I have been an actor for the majority of my career in New York, on tour, in London and everywhere. And I started a program for postgraduate studies 10 years ago. That became big very quickly. We ended up having 6,000 students in New York City. We also opened in London, Paris and Amsterdam. I got sucked into higher education and I haven’t looked back. In the arts, there are not a lot of people who run programs that look like me, that are my age, that are my ethnic background. And so, to be able to highlight that and really focus on the next generation of artists that are similar, that excites me quite a lot.

You know, doing something like a Halloween haunted house seems trivial. But ultimately, to make it a full production, Broadway-caliber, that’s exciting, interesting and, to me, great!”

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Presbury & Associates

Case Studies & Success Stories

Presbury & Associates

Charles “Chuck” Presbury
Founder, Presbury & Associates

I’m a little different than the typical Norwalk business you might run into. I would describe what I do as HR consulting. I help businesses and individuals, particularly in medium and small businesses, to get better. You could call me a leadership mechanic or a leadership coach. I think of business people like athletes that are getting coaching all the time. As circumstances change, they have to adapt and do things differently. That’s what I help them do. The best-in-class companies that I’ve worked for such as McGraw-Hill and NBC, they all do this. However, the people who run most of our small businesses, who support most of our neighborhoods, never get this kind of help. They’re doing the best they can. So my job is to help them to stop and think a little bit about what they’re trying to do. I give them some room to breathe and think about how to lead better, how to help the people around them to perform better, and how to help their customers better than they could have before.

I’ve lived in Norwalk since 1977. I had worked in New York and was basically semi-retired. I decided I was not going to run into the City anymore to do what I was doing, but instead do it here in Norwalk. So in 2013, I left corporate and decided to continue to practice but actually do it inside a variety of business clients.

I’m coming up on my 10th year in business. It started when the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce reached out and said they wanted to hear from some different voices in small businesses. So I said, let me let me engage with them because most of my contacts were in New York, and I wanted to move my business up this way. I figured the Chamber is the best resource for people who know the area, people who are smart and would use the same types of services that I that would use. The Chamber and the City of Norwalk have been great resources for referring me and making sure local businesses know that a resource like myself is available to help people that normally would not seek it or think they could afford it.

Now with technology like Zoom, etc., I’m a lot more flexible. I’ve got clients all over the world. I wouldn’t call myself a “digital native” but, in essence, when clients ask where my office is, I hold up my phone. So, any document, anything I need, I can get it in an instant wherever I am. I also have a virtual network of people that I work with in various forms. Other coaches like myself, sometimes people with technical experience in law, finance, etc. If the client needs something specific, I have people that I can bring in as needed.

I also started the Team Building Band with some of my colleagues as kind of an offshoot of what I do that’s not as straightforward as consulting. We are an actual band of musicians that does retreats in a fun way to help people let go of themselves so they can have fun and see and learn differently. The Team Building Band can have a session with people in which we teach them creativity and flexibility. We energize their team by showing them the secrets of being a band while we play. I’m the moderator and we will talk about how music is played and how the band members interact.  Then we do some improv and actually have the group join with us. They will make up a song and they will present that song with the professional musicians at the very end. So, they actually learn that they can have courage, that they can be creative. They learn about each other in the process and then create something. A couple of our clients actually use those songs almost like “fight songs” or “theme songs” for their businesses.

That’s the amazing part. We use the band as a metaphor for departments that work together and need to break down walls to hear each other. If you do it together, you actually can succeed. For example, we had a local organization that was having a major transition in leadership. The acting head asked us to come in and have the team celebrate the fact that they had been through a lot. He didn’t say anything to them, except come on upstairs to the conference room. They came up, the band was there and we started playing.  At the end, the team created a couple songs that reminded them that they had been successful. That, in fact, they could be proud of what they were doing. When I walk through the halls, I still hear them humming some of the songs.

Another client is a local organization whose new CEO looked around, saw the staff seemed kind of rudderless, and wanted to understand what their strengths and weaknesses were.  So, I interviewed all the staff to learn what they saw as the future of the organization and what they would change. In doing so, we realized some of them were on slightly different pages. Some of them really didn’t trust each other. That enabled the CEO to work up a transition plan in which he could start to work with them, talk with them, create relationships with them. So, he overcame the things that created the distrust. Most executives just jump in and start making decisions. We created a forum in which the staff actually stated the best way they could work together. And so they created an actual plan. Sometimes, I can be that voice saying, you know, there’s an elephant in the room. Let me describe it in such a way that we can all get our arms around it, without feeling vulnerable in talking about something that’s uncomfortable.

For example, when you have a start-up company, the entrepreneur is the one who identifies with the business and is used to doing everything. They have to stop knowing exactly how the work is done and start building people who can do the work for them.  Now they’re managing the people and showing them where to take the vision.  So, it’s actually creating a team to help somebody who is the business and getting that person to realize that they’re going to need other people to take it to the next level. It’s showing the leader how to get away from the mechanics of the business and think about the structure, the DNA of the business overall, and to start running things by trusting the team. It’s understanding how they may do some things  differently. It’s not managing their work as much as managing the values, how the team sees things and how they’re going to use their strengths. This happens with larger businesses but it’s more personal with entrepreneurs. I have them rethink what their vision is for that business because it’s not just “their baby” any longer.

I also do some pro bono work for non-profit organizations that have this need, such as foundations in the area and community health centers. I also give a lot of different speeches in different places for different groups to help them understand how to navigate leadership issues. People are trying to pivot, especially with all the craziness that has happened with the pandemic, but sometimes they don’t have anybody to help them think about things differently. It’s fun for me to help people make those pivots.

It has been gratifying for me to see the City of Norwalk really open up again and help promote its local businesses. There is so much promise and potential here.

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