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Startup Courier Company Connects Small Businesses Amid NYC Tech Boom

By Mathew Katz | October 8, 2012 3:35pm | Updated on October 8, 2012 7:00pm

MIDTOWN — When Michigan native Garrick Pohl decided to create a new way for couriers and their clients to connect online, the city of New York — with its massive bike courier network — made perfect sense for the launch.

Zipments, his online, same-day delivery service with on-demand couriers at the ready, was a perfect fit for NYC's endless demand for delivery jobs, prompting him to move it from Grand Rapids, MI to NYC earlier this year.

Zipments allows businesses around the city in need of a courier to post their delivery jobs online. The jobs are immediately sent to hundreds of couriers around the city through a mobile app, allowing deliverers to accept jobs on the fly.

The idea impressed officials at the city's Economic Development Corporation who, along with FirstMark Capital, decided to invest $200,000 in the company, as part of efforts to spur tech growth through the NYC Entrepreneurial Fund in late May 2012.

Zipments is among the many tech startups that have flocked to New York to take advantage of the vast network of investments and support systems springing up across the city to encourage growth of the sector. The tech industry ballooned by 30 percent between 2005 and 2010 according to the EDC.

The Fund, which has amassed $22 million to award to tech companies, also gave a $200,000 investment to InVision, a software prototype creator; MyCityWay, a mobile app provider; Jirafe, which helps eCommerce companies grow their business and Medico.com, a healthcare information company.

The EDC has also created a range of financing and tax incentive programs aimed at small businesses, and set up affordable workspace for startup businesses of all sizes.

"We're really focused on spurring innovation and entrepreneurship," said Patrick Muncie, a spokesman for the EDC, who added that the organization hopes to help technology businesses by creating a more conducive economic climate.

"The goal is to create an ecosystem that's friendly for growth."

Zipments NYC tapped into the city's tech startup support network soon after launching in early September, after Pohl's team encountered the challenges of New York real estate and the difficulties of connecting with potential clients among the mind-boggling number of businesses around the city.

"They helped find us office space. We didn't know where to start, so they connected us with brokers," said Pohl, now the CEO of Zipments.

The city's investment in Zipments meant that their team could grow from three to five full-time employees, along with a number of contractors. Most of the staff regularly ride their bikes to work.

Pohl added that it helped that the city had already invested in the infrastructure needed for a thriving courier economy, "They've put in bike lanes, bike rules," he said.

"This is an opportunity to go green with local delivery. It's great for the community."

Zipments is currently renting out office space from wine merchants Lot18, but hopes to soon move to a facility of their own by the end of the year. The new space will be part office and part hub for couriers, where they can stop and take a break during their day.

"It's a place where they can come in, recharge their electronics, dry off their clothes, even get an affordable cup of coffee," Pohl said.

The delivery service is not just for businesses shipping to other businesses — the Zipments team envisions itself as a way for retailers to get their products out to a wider customer base.

Lisel Chang, the company's general manager, said that Zipments can give local businesses the tools to compete with other national brands like Amazon.com — which crushes the competition with same-day shipping.

"Some retailers see it as a way to expand their geographic market," she said. "They can ship outside their neighborhood and keep that same level of local service."

The goal is in keeping with EDC's mission in promoting startups: to promote businesses that help other businesses.

"What we're trying to do, we're trying to enable a free flow of commerce across the city," said Pohl.

"That's the goal."