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5 People Who Can Help You Start a Startup in CNY

5 People Who Can Help You Start a Startup in CNY

By Joe Cunningham, Community Connector at UVC

So you’ve got this great idea; or, you’ve already acted on it and are staying up late at night, penning the business plan, talking to people about investing and where to start. Chances are in either case, you feel more than a little lost.

We can help. I’ve been covering startups and the startup community in Central New York for about a full year now, and in that time I’ve rubbed shoulders (figuratively speaking) with some of the best and brightest minds who have “been there, done that.”

My overall “State of the Startup Community” here in CNY is extremely positive. I’ve found numerous “tributaries” so to speak running into what Nasir Ali and I like to call “an underground electric river of innovation and entrepreneurship” here in Upstate, specifically in my case, Central New York. So, in short, if you want to start the next Facebook, Uber, Alibaba, or – trash that – an entirely new “no one has ever thought of this but it’s going to change the world” – here and now, this is the time, this is the place. Go no further.

So without further ado, here’s my list of a few people you really need to talk to if you want to start a startup in CNY.

The Big 5

I know I said “no further ado,” like a good Shakespearean. However, two quick things must be said.


First, this list is not exhaustive. There are probably at least 500 people you could talk to and not hit the tip of the iceberg around here. That’s how awesome the business community really is in CNY.

And second, though cool, “entrepreneury” [new word, just made it up] people are oftentimes busy, I find – 9 times out of 10 – they are more than overjoyed to talk to up-and-coming people like you – entrepreneurs, just starting out – to share their experiences and wisdom – for free! It’s the sign of a great person, and I believe everyone on this list is truly great. When you’ve been through the agonies of starting a startup, “pay it forward” is a phrase you hear a lot – not just a movie with that kid from The Sixth Sense.

So don’t forget it when you own your own private plane.

Note: Names are hyperlinked to LinkedIn profiles so you can get in touch and are not in any hierarchical order.

#1 Tony Kershaw

Tony Kershaw

Let me introduce Tony with a personal anecdote that I think encapsulates what a great guy he is.

I met Tony Kershaw via another name on this list. We sipped coffee and for once, I didn’t have my laptop open and wasn’t stressed out, typing verbatim what he had to say – a common practice for me as a fledgling journalist. Our conversation was at the same time relaxed but extremely informative: Tony told me what he does as a “Startup Educator, Connector, and Mentor” at the Syracuse Technology Garden, a local incubator; but, more than anything, he practiced what he preached.

“So what is it you do?” he asked, “And how can I help you?”

Tony took the time to listen to me and my goals as a startup journalist and a writer, and in no time he gave me a contact and lead that hooked me up with exactly what one of my goals was. It turned out to be one of the best connections I’ve made in the past 6 months.

So that’s Tony. He’s always looking for ways to connect people with the resources they need, especially startups and entrepreneurs. He’s a real testament to the mission they have there at the Tech Garden.

Seth MulliganI have only heard the greatest things about Seth Mulligan, Tony’s boss, supporter, and director down there as well and I look forward to having coffee with him as well.





Stacey Keefe#2 Stacey Keefe

Perhaps one of the humblest, brightest, high powered individuals you will meet, Stacey runs IDEAcuse at SU. IDEAcuse is this ingenious organization that connects people with ideas. Basically, since there are so many different schools based on areas of study at a university, specifically one as large as SU, it’s hard for engineers to meet artists to meet lawyers – all of whom might be interested in working together but just don’t know it.

Imagine you’re in law school at SU and you want to make an app to do – whatever you lawyers do, find a process server (“You’ve been served!” – Seth Rogan, Pineapple Express) nearby fast, etc. (you can pay me for that random idea later); but – you don’t know sh*t about how to program an app and how to market one either.

Enter IDEAcuse and Stacey Keefe. Stacey can connect you to her network of entrepreneurs of various backgrounds who would be interested in partnering up on cool (think way cooler actually) projects such as the app. And “presto-change-o” – a new startup is formed.

IDEAcuse hosts a Wednesday morning coffee meetup (details on their website) anyone can attend. I highly recommend.

Nasir Ali

#3 Nasir Ali

This may seem redundant, since you are reading this via the UVC website and here I am, talking about the CEO, but you will be hard pressed to find someone who is smarter than this guy who has a real love for and passion in the startup community.

This guy not only graduated from not one, but two Ivy League schools (Princeton and Yale), but also founded and directed over half a dozen technology companies and incubator programs, including the Tech Garden, this organization (UVC), and StartFast, a venture accelerator that draws investors worldwide.

I thought I was excited about covering the local startup scene before I sat down for the first time with Nasir. After I got up from that conversation, I was perhaps 100 times more invigorated by the untapped and under-reported reality that UNY is a vigorous and growing startup and technological ecosystem with unlimited potential.

Jonathan Grutka

Nasir is definitely the man to know, as well as his energetic, get-it-done superhero sidekick, Jonathan Grutka, Director of Growth Initiatives for Upstate Venture Connect. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve met both. If not, now is the time. These guys are doing great things for Upstate New York and the world, and they can help you make your world-changing idea a reality too.


Craig Laughlin

#4 Craig Laughlin, Jr.

Full disclosure on this one: not only is Craig one of my best friends, but I work with him as a freelance Content Marketer and general marketing consultant.

Craig is the nicest badass you will ever meet. He’s the founder and CEO of two marketing companies – Kinani Blue, which services Central New York, and The Bullhorn Agency, which offers marketing solutions to companies worldwide. If that sounds like a plug for those companies, that’s because it is.

I’ve been working with Craig for several years now and have never found a more straight-up guy who is on top of the marketing game and has the strategic connections to get things done. He’s always up for a conversation and even calls all his clients “guests,” which speaks to the level of how he treats them.

Everybody needs marketing. “If a tree falls in the woods…” You’ve got a great idea, you’re spending enough time and energy into getting the product off the ground, but you need investors, clients, crowdfunding, customers, users – marketing, is the word for you. Or, at least, a game plan in your business plan for when the time comes.

Say no more.

Joe Cunningham

#5 And this might seem a little pretentious but hear me out – me! That’s right: Joe Cunningham

(I think I have like 4,375 connections on LinkedIn now, all of which I know really well. That was a joke.)

So yeah, me! The reason why this is not a pretentious statement, although it sort of is, is because I [swear word] love to help people who are doing great things! I write for several publications about just that (see my online portfolio here).

I’m a tech/startup journalist/podcaster with a screenwriting background. I love the stories and I realize, more and more, I’m a part of that story. I’m in the Act II when I meet you for coffee at any of the Café Kubals around town (seriously, I’ve been to all three in a 24 hour span once).

I love listening to the stories of entrepreneurs, chronicling that for all the world (as much as I can get it out there) to see (enter the LinkedIn contacts and the papers/websites I write for, Twitter, Facebook), and connecting you to the people on and off this list. There’s just a magic to being a part of something great, and knowing you lent a hand in it.

This could be anybody’s story. This is all the people on this page’s story. This is my story.

Anyway, I’d love to sit across from you and type yours over a cup of coffee. Feel free to contact me: Criticisms of my pretentiousness also welcome.

Rock On


So who else should make this list? I know I’ve personally left out 495 people, but there’s this thing when you’re writing, kind of like when you just crammed for a test in high school – you forget stuff.

We’d like to know. Shoot us an email.

And rock on! If you’re reading this, you are part of the startup ecosystem and play a role in making the world a better place. What that role is, that’s up to you to find out. When you do, let me know; I’d like to write the story.

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