Network brings tech firm to White Plains
“This is a great way to start the week,” Mayor Thomas Roach observed on a recent Monday morning in a downtown office building in White Plains.
At 150 Grand St., the mayor joined landlord Reckson and business leaders from the Westchester County Association (WCA) to welcome a young and fast-growing tech company to the city. Doing business as PlanGuru, the 3-year-old company develops and markets budgeting and financial planning software for businesses and nonprofits. It’s the first business to be vetted by and receive financial and services support from the Blueprint Accelerator Network L.L.C., a private-sector partnership started by the WCA last year to aid entrepreneurs and early stage companies that commit to remain in the county.
The network, whose partners represent more than $275 million in debt financing and in-kind services, is a key element of the WCA’s Blueprint for Westchester initiative to spur economic development and fill some 3 million square feet of vacant office space in the county.
PlanGuru’s decision to open a headquarters office downtown also bolsters the city’s campaign to attract young professionals to live and work in White Plains, Roach noted.
“This is an awesome, awesome location,” said Christian H. Wielage, a former IBM employee and CEO of PlanGuru. Until recently a largely virtual company that operated from Wielage’s White Plains apartment and shared office space, PlanGuru is leasing 1,635 square feet of renovated space at 150 Grand St., a six-story, Class A office building that Roach remembered for its drab, dilapidated interior before Reckson, the suburban division of SL Green Realty Corp., paid nearly $7 million to acquire it. Reckson in the last three years has spent $5 million to $6 million in green-building renovations there, said John Barnes, Reckson senior vice president and senior director of SL Green’s suburban portfolio. Reckson is among 19 companies that are the accelerator network’s principal investors.
The tech company signed a five-year lease in the building, which Barnes said is 50 percent occupied. Reckson will provide the space rent-free for one year and the tenant will receive a 50 percent discount on second-year rent. Wielage said the company will save nearly $4,000 in monthly rent this year.
Marissa Brett, WCA executive director of economic development, said the total package of rent breaks and professional services the network will provide is valued at about $200,000. Harrison Edwards Inc., the Bedford Hills public relations and marketing agency, will provide PlanGuru with pro bono marketing services. Search Smart Marketing in Valhalla will provide free search engine optimization services.
Brett said the company also will receive legal and accounting services from network partners and mentoring from top executives in the county as well as access to the county’s wealth of colleges and universities.
Wielage said the company in 2011 launched an entirely rewritten version of the PlanGuru software that was first developed in 2000 by his father, Edward Wielage, an accountant and owner of New Horizon Technologies Inc. in Santa Fe, N.M. Wielage said his father and a business partner casually operated it from Santa Fe as “a lifestyle business. For 10 years, it was two employees, just a website up on the Internet.”
Working at IBM as a budgeting and planning analyst, Wielage saw a need among businesses for the kind of budget analysis and financial planning product developed by his father a decade earlier, In Santa Fe, though, “They were thinking about folding up the company,” he said.
Instead, in 2010 Wielage and Tripp Graham, a San Diego marketing executive who grew up with Wielage in northeastern Pennsylvania, took over the New Horizon Software Technologies business. The CEO’s brother, Taylor Wielage, a former assistant vice president for global corporate systems at Jefferies & Co. Inc., the investment banking firm in New York, joined their enterprise last year as chief financial officer and partner focused on application development.
Since the product launch in 2011, PlanGuru has been used by more than 1,100 customers in 34 countries. Christian Wielage said many customers are small and midsize companies with $1 million to $25 million in annual revenue and the certified public accountants and other financial professionals that serve those businesses. The company’s largest client is the University of Singapore, where PlanGuru is used to manage hundreds of departments.
Wielage said the Blueprint Accelerator Network offered the early stage company a solution and reason to locate in White Plains after “a very difficult process to find space that would fit us at a price we could afford.”