The 2nd Annual Upstate Unleashed Conference and 2016 Venture Ecosystem Awards were held Sept. 16 at Turning Stone Resort.
Upstate Venture Connect hosted the event, which brought together 300 entrepreneurs, founders, mentors and investors.
Tim Keenan, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of the Kennan Center for Entrepreneurship at Le Moyne College, gave a keynote address focused on taking action to create a strong startup community in the state, officials said.
“We were thrilled to see such a diverse and distinguished audience of entrepreneurs, investors and mentors attend both the awards luncheon and Upstate Unleashed Conference,” said Nasir Ali, UVC co-founder and CEO. “We realized last year that this is an amazing opportunity for first-time entrepreneurs seeking wider connections, and our decision to add a mini conference featuring Upstate’s top CEOs really paid off.”
The organization received more than 100 submissions across five categories, which all honor leaders who are transforming the upstate economy.
The Community Catalyst award went to Frank DuRoss of Utica. He is co-founder of Utica Comets, executive director of institutional advancement for Mohawk Valley Community College and owner of thINCubator.
The award is given to individuals who organize programs to bring together diverse startup ecosystem players in a local community and/or increase the amount of capital and number of active early stage investors in that community.
Community Catalyst finalists included Elisa-Miller Out of Ithaca (Singlebrook Technologies, CourseQ, Women 2.0, Finger Lakes Seed Fund) and James Senall of Rochester (High Tech Rochester Inc., Rochester Angel Network).
Jason Kuruzovich of Albany received the Campus Connector award, which recognizes individuals affiliated with an educational institution who are leveraging on- and off-campus resources and connections to spin-out research startups and/or create opportunities to retain entrepreneurial students, according to officials.
Kuruzovich is director of Severino Center, associate professor of information systems at Renesselar Polytechnic Institute and an organizer of Startup Tech Valley.
The other Campus Connector finalists were Martin Casstevens of Buffalo (University at Buffalo) and Wills Hapworth of Hamilton (Thought Into Action Entrepreneurship Institute at Colgate University).
Bill Jones of Rochester was honored as Magical Mentor, for individuals who have had a transformative impact on the trajectory of one or more startup companies. Jones is business development manager for Venture Creations at RIT and a mentor for companies including SweetWater Energy Inc., Clear Cove Systems Inc., IMSWorkX Inc. and Splyce.
Magical Mentor finalists included Steven Raines of Buffalo (Algonquin Studios, VCAMP Accelerator, SWRemote, ZenPRM) and Steve Suhowatsky of Syracuse (Syracuse University Blackstone Launchpad, Tech Garden, Seed Capital Fund of CNY).
Ecosystem Champion is an honor presented to individuals who are catalyzing and supporting startup activity across multiple upstate communities, according to officials. Marnie LaVigne of Buffalo was the recipient. LaVigne is president and CEO of Launch NY, former Leader of the Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics at UB.
Ecosystem Champion finalists included Richard Glaser of Rochester (Merrill Lynch, RocGrowth, RocGrowth Candids, RocGrowth Coffee) and Jennifer Tegan of Ithaca (Cayuga Venture Fund, UVANY, Tompkins Trust Company).
GEMCOR of West Seneca was the deal of the year, an award recognizing companies whose exit created wealth for investors and founders/employees, as well as making the company a stronger contributor to the local economy, according to officials.
Deal of the Year finalists include Athenex, Autonomy Distributors, Fibertech Networks LLC and Touchstream Solutions LLC.
An independent panel of judges reviewed each nomination and selected the 2016 finalists and winners, officials said.
For a complete list of nominees, visit UVC.org/Awards-Nominations.
Follow Kerry Feltner on Twitter: @KerryFeltner