By: Martha E. Conway
Donna Tupper, President, Owner, Infinity Northeast Inc.
Jeffery Schoonover, Peninsula Lifestyle Capital
After 37 years in construction, Infinity Northeast, Inc., owner, and President Donna Tupper, 59, is continuing to diversify; she is branching out into owner-developer properties and a partnership with principals in IRL Social.
Tupper studied business then attended Cayuga Community College. At 22, with her husband traveling extensively for work and unwilling to hire daycare, she said she had to get creative.
“I went to a few friends at the Small Business Administration and in the real estate industry to see if they could use any help,” she said, adding that she started by cleaning and performing minor repairs before graduating to a full-blown handyman service for the properties. “I painted, hung wallpaper, did trim and hung doors.”
Because the buildings were vacant, she said she could do the work at any hour.
“My mom would watch the baby, and I would work evenings, sometimes all night, eventually growing into having an all-girl crew.”
After expanding her menu of capabilities, Tupper worked for other construction companies starting as commercial project management then into construction executive positions. She decided to go out on her own and learned very quickly that she did not care for the residential work.
“The clients can be very demanding in residential work with minimal financial benefits,” she said. “I love everything about commercial projects. The people who work for Infinity are loyal and dedicated, and I wanted to take care of them.”
She did not want them out working in inclement weather and she could control that.
“Commercial work allows me to take care of the Infinity team,” she said.
“I want to ensure my own future without my daughters worrying about taking care of me, but I also want to make sure the business is stable, and they are taken care of – if and when I decide to get out of the company,” explaining that this year has been something of a challenge, but she is confident she can keep her people busy by moving toward the development end of the business.
Tupper said she has a core group of permanent team members (she doesn’t like to call them ‘employees’) between superintendents, administrative positions and field crews, and they are another reason she’s moving into development.
“Their future is also important to me,” she said.
Property development, ownership and management initiatives are on the horizon, as is entry into the IRL and PropTech arenas.
“I am planning a comprehensive medical center in Naples, Fla., where I will be in the own-developer position,” she said. “I am planning to have physical therapy, a high-tech wellness gym, offices for specialists and possibly a pharmacy, to lease space out.
PT is sorely lacking in Naples. I want to end the necessity of people having to make multiple stops to take care of themselves by consolidating medical services in one building.”
In addition, she is in the initial stages of acquiring land in North Carolina to build single-level, high-end housing for the 55-and-older crowd, and she is planning a resort in Clearwater, Fla. Both will have wellness gyms and a focus on comfortable living.
“There are people, singles and couples, who don’t want the hassle of taking care of properties or climbing stairs anymore,” she said. “I want to give them a great experience and help them really enjoy the last 10 or 20 years of their lives. This will also provide a safe secure environment for the residents.
“After I’m settled into development, I will have set myself up for when I’m no longer working and out of the business. All three daughters reside out of state, so there is really nothing tying me to stay in New York, but the corporate office of Infinity will remain in Syracuse. I can work remotely from anywhere.”
Within the IRL Social field, Tupper said she will invest and partner with Jeffrey Schoonover of Peninsula Lifestyle Capital to assist in the construction development and management pieces of the businesses, with maintaining a financial investment. Schoonover, who is well-versed in e-sports, said Infinity Northeast is ideally placed to identify franchise and emerging market entertainment opportunities due to its work in the gaming/resort/hospitality and food-and-beverage markets. Their partnership, he said, provides an opportunity for investors to get in on the ground floor of these emerging prospects and enjoy a one-stop shop for the digital-IRL Social integration concept.
According to Schoonover, the IRL Social concept drives foot traffic and can play a vital role for malls that have an urgent need to re-purpose unoccupied retail spaces.
“Donna chose the partnership because the founders of IRL Social have in-depth knowledge of the retail real estate sector in closely held investments, recently acquiring more than seven million square feet of commercial retail space in 17 states over the past 18 months,” Schoonover said. “In addition, founders also have stakes in a top-12 professional e-sports organization globally and vast experience in content creation. Founders also have stakes in the PropTech sector, which is growing.”
‘PropTech’ is defined by Vincent Lecamus on Medium.com as a collective term used to define startups offering technologically innovative products or new business models for real estate markets. It includes all available technology to help find properties and investors, match clients to properties, manage properties, finance the business transactions and more.
Development may be in her immediate future, but Tupper said her long-term vision and a career highlight converge in her outreach work: informing young people and displaced workers about the opportunities available in the construction trades.
“I’ve learned a lot over the years, and I’m very proud of the work I’ve done getting younger generations involved in the construction trades,” Tupper said. “It’s one of the most important things I can do.”
Tupper attends and presents at various events. She has led women’s classes within the Carpenters Union, the SBA’s Women in Construction program and with Girls’ World, a 21-year-old national program that aims to connect girls to resources and partners in their communities to help them realize their potential. Syracuse has been a host to the organization in 2018 and 2019 and Tupper spoke, hoping to inform and educate those in attendance.
“The girls come to look at opportunities that are available,” she said. “If you have no idea about construction, how would you know the opportunities that are out there? We try to explain what is out there and the vast avenues for girls to become involved in the construction industry.”
“The union is a good place to start,” she said. “All kids don’t want to go to college; lots of schools have eliminated shop classes. Displaced adult workers have opportunities, too, and construction has been relatively COVID-proof. We only stopped operations for four days.”
Tupper said success is finishing the project and hearing the compliments; on the workmanship, yes, but more so on the integrity of her firm and the workers who represent it.
“I’m experienced, knowledgeable and have a reputation for success in my projects,” Tupper said. “I don’t bid competitively because I believe we have a specific purpose on certain projects. People with experience having Infinity on their projects seek to contract us because of the team’s performance. We all have very good reputations for our knowledge, experience and getting the projects done successfully.”
“We’re one of the few companies that have a record of consistently leaving a project without a punch list. Our crews have always been directed to never leave a site without getting a detailed punch list, so they can complete any discrepancies and will not have to return. A timely completion is an important part of every project.”
Her advice for those thinking about striking out on their own is simple.
“Don’t get too comfortable, work hard and always look ahead,” she said. “As an owner, when you receive your first big check, plan its use. People new to business tend to think they are rich at the start. But they must know not to mismanage funds if they want to stay in business. You need the cash flow to keep the business moving forward.
“Always remember, never treat anyone badly; money isn’t worth your integrity. If you do things underhandly, you will eventually fail. You cannot cut corners and communication is key. You can always look at a way to make yourself and your company better – and that may cost a little more – but you cannot compromise safety or integrity.
“As long as you use these key points, clients will come, and your company will grow. I love what I do, and most of the time it does not feel like work. Challenges are only a perspective and should be handled with confidence.”
For more information on Infinity Northeast construction and development projects, call 315.657.2381. Tupper said, anyone interested in investing in IRL Social or Ultra Starz should contact Jeffrey Schoonover at 407.474.6244.
Editor’s note: Molly English-Bowers contributed to this story.