Stacey Toussaint and Sheila Collins have turned neighborhoods such as Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights into tourist destinations. (Photo: Michael Kirby)
You can visit Brooklyn, or you can experience it.
That’s the premise of Inside Out Tours, a company specializing in treks to the borough’s often overlooked neighborhoods.
Stacey Toussaint and Sheila Collins, Brooklyn natives, developed walking and bus tours that explore neighborhoods such as Crown Heights, Bensonhurst and Bedford-Stuyvesant. The tours combine samplings of ethnic food and visits to art galleries, Underground Railroad sites and houses of worship.
Last week, Inside Out Tours won first place and $15,000 from the Brooklyn Public Library’s PowerUP! program, a competition to award seed money to promising Brooklyn businesses.
“We felt that people didn’t know about all the treasures Brooklyn has,” Toussaint said. “Our tour takes people off the beaten path. It’s one of our distinguishing factors and we thought that could be a competitive advantage over the big red buses that just go through Brooklyn as a segue.”
The women, both 35, not only know their borough, they know how to get things done.
Toussaint, a securities lawyer, and Collins, a marketing executive, passed the city’s licensed tour guide exam and tapped community resources such as the PowerUP! program.
When the duo rated an honorable mention in the contest last year, they bolstered their business plan. They formed an LLC, created a Web site, and added community partners and a charity tie-in.
In the contest, the judges look for people “keen about their businesses ... that are an expression of Brooklyn,” said Maud Andrew, the library’s program manager.
Toussaint said they’ll use the prize money to launch a business-to-business marketing plan, targeting groups such as tour operators, schools and social clubs.