Pinnacle CEO Gregg Kidd '84 guides entrepreneurs to the top

Central New York is full of natural beauty — verdant hiking trails, streams, and lakes. It’s also full of young, would-be entrepreneurs who, sensing no viability for their businesses in the area, pack their bags and big ideas and head elsewhere.

Gregg Kidd ’84 wants to slow the exodus of entrepreneurial spirit. Kidd is CEO of Syracuse-based Pinnacle Holding Company, a corporation he cofounded in 1995. Today, it’s the umbrella organization for five businesses and employs 70 people. At the time of this writing, the company holds an estimated $1.3 billion in assets.

Kidd, who’s been an entrepreneur for more than 20 years, says he knew instinctively early on that he wasn’t cut out to work for someone else. After graduating from IC with a degree in physical education, he got a job selling copiers. From there, he went to work for an investment bank, which later became Smith Barney, where he spent 10 years. Although Kidd became quite successful, he knew the corporate world wasn’t for him.

“You either change your mindset and your attitude, or you do something else,” he said.

In 1995, Kidd did something else. He took a chance on himself and cofounded Pinnacle Holding Company, buoyed by the example set by his IC baseball coach, George Valesente ’66, M.S. ’75. In an interview with Syracuse’s Post-Standard, Kidd remembers that Valesente “was very consistent. [He would say,] ‘Do it right. Do it every day.’ When it’s snowing in Ithaca in April and it’s cold and [no one wanted] to be out there practicing, we were out there practicing. It’s a little thing. But when you look back at it, it made you successful. So you respect it.”

Today, Kidd’s goal is to encourage other would-be entrepreneurs in central New York with the same “get up and go” spirit that Valesente’s work ethic fostered in him.

What’s the incentive he offers? A $100 million venture capital fund to give innovators much-needed financing.

Kidd adds that, although his original idea was to form a private equity fund to help established businesses, he felt that those who were trying to start new businesses might benefit more from start-up capital.

“The hardest part of being an entrepreneur is starting,” he says. “Most people can’t get over that part. If you wait for all the lights to be green before you leave the house, you’re never going to leave.”

Kidd says he hopes his venture capital fund will not only give would-be entrepreneurs the green light to start a business but would also stem the tide of innovators leaving the central New York region. “This is an area where, for generations, people worked in factories or for a few large, global employers,” Kidd notes. “The safe, normal thing to do is get a job and spend your life waiting to retire.”

But these days a risk-averse mindset is counterintuitive, Kidd says, especially considering the current economic conditions in this part of the state. “Employment is extremely stagnant in central New York. All across New York, except New York City, it’s been flat for the last 30 years. So there’s a slow migration of people leaving the area."

These departures continue despite the fact that local universities and business schools regularly hold competitions for entrepreneurs. Kidd says he’s judged several of these competitions himself. He also notes that even though he personally knows a number of entrepreneurs in the region who’ve established successful businesses, there’s a prevailing mindset that favors perceived stability and security rather than the risk that is inherent to entrepreneurial ventures. And those who choose to stay and start a business face another challenge.

“There’s no venture capital to speak of,” Kidd says. As a result, he says, would-be entrepreneurs set off in search of greener pastures.

A well-stocked venture fund, he believes, would help to change that. And once innovators have access to capital, Kidd says, it’s just a matter of time before the pervasive, self-limiting ideas about entrepreneurship give way to something else: optimism. “In other cities, you start a business and if it fails, it just means you’re getting closer to the one that works.”