Unexpected business recoveries from 9/11

Colleen Safford on the job with a client.While the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, wiped out many small businesses in New York City, these three entrepreneurs have seen new opportunities arise in the national tragedy's wake.

The dog walker

Colleen Safford started working as a dog walker and trainer in 2000, after leaving a career in financial services and venture capitalism. Immediately after 9/11, her business paused. "I think we all walked around in a bit of aftershock for quite some time," she said. "Puppy training took a back burner."

Before long, however, she noticed a surge in pet ownership in Manhattan. "Dogs are good medicine, and people rely on them in times of need," she said. "Everyone from families who were directly affected by 9/11 to people who just felt a sense of 'carpe diem' decided that owning a pet was something they needed to do to heal and move on."

With the increased demand for dog training, walking, and boarding, Safford expanded New York Walk & Train. Her company now employs 14 dog walkers and pet sitters throughout the city.

For Safford, her experiences in the 10 years since 9/11 affirmed her career switch. "When I look back and think of how precious life proves to be in the wake of these life-changing moments, I couldn't feel more reassured that working in something that you are truly passionate about ... is the only route to take in life."

The CEO

Nick Balletta's office is still three blocks from Ground Zero, and he remembers running from the dust cloud and tracking down colleagues.  His company, now known as TalkPoint, had about 35 employees at the time of the attacks and was an emerging leader in the field of streaming media.

"I can't get onto an airplane without thinking about 9/11," said Balletta, the CEO of TalkPoint. That cautious sentiment, shared by countless travelers worldwide, has actually contributed to his company's success.

"Following 9/11, TalkPoint has recognized an exponential increase in virtual/online meetings, due in large part to people's reluctance to travel," he said. Now an industry leader in global communications technology specializing in webcasting, TalkPoint has over 100 employees.

He added that the company's experiences with post-9/11 crisis communications and recovery planning has led many companies to use TalkPoint's services to communicate with their employees.

The accidental expert

Donna Childs had a different discovery about disaster preparedness and protection plans during the 9/11 crisis.

Her business, Childs Capital, was located at 82 Wall Street, and she remembers reopening her office a week after the attacks to deal with ash and soot removal while trying to work without such essential services as telephones, electricity, and mail delivery. At the time few firms were prepared to work through such disruptions, but hers was among the "fortunate few," she said.

"I was shocked by how many Lower Manhattan small businesses were unprepared with the basics, such as business interruption insurance, and how unusual I was for being prepared," said Childs.

For the next several years she volunteered during her spare time to help small businesses prepare for and recover from disasters. These efforts inspired her website and book, "Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses." In 2009 she closed down Childs Capital to focus on her new venture, Prisere LLC, which helps small businesses build resilience.

She summed up her 10-year journey: "Sometimes the unthinkable opens doors and opportunities that, in hindsight, would have remained otherwise closed. The events around 9/11 clarified my life's calling, although it certainly didn't seem that way at the time."




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