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Mentoring and advice have been available ever since businesses using clay tablet technology arose in Mesopotamia. In slightly less ancient times of 5.25” floppy disks and 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 processors, a variety of ad hoc advisories were taking a page from the book of Joe Mancuso, who had founded the first large-scale business incubator in 1956.
Tech advisories evolved along with the Internet, leading to the development of incubators that insulate young startups and accelerators that launch market-ready companies into action. Now the distinction between incubators and accelerators has blurred in many cases, as some organizations have come to support multiple stages of development and in some cases provide incubator-like support to the incubators and accelerators themselves.
Much of the incubator market came to be associated with California and Silicon Valley, which saw the beginnings of Idealab (1996), Y Combinator (2005), AngelPad (2010) and 500 Startups (2010). Yet much of the impetus towards incubation came from the Small Business Administration and the East Coast, where Mancuso started his operation and University City Science Centre in Philadelphia began developing startup support services in the early 1970s. Now vibrant startup communities have established themselves across the nation in locations including Austin, Seattle, Boulder and Omaha.
Many startup cultures have developed along the eastern seaboard, and Dealflow.com looks at some of the entrepreneurial startup organizations three thousand miles from Silicon Valley, around New York State – Upstate Venture Connect (UVC), High Tech Rochester, Tech Garden, NEXUS-NY and Creative Destruction Labs at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.
While eastern support organizations may have roots of one sort or another in Silicon Valley, they also feature native characteristics as well. Pete Snyder, CEO of Virginia-based Disruptor Capital, told Dealflow.com that economic and political concerns can affect East Coast incubator styles. “The biggest difference is the role of government,” according to Snyder. “In the Valley, government is seen as an impediment (rightfully so most of the time) or isn’t even considered. In D.C. tech circles many serial entrepreneurs come out of the defense, aerospace and/or gov-tech industries, so finding and fueling ways to make government more efficient and/or service government is front and center in many business plans.”
Syracuse, N.Y.-based UVC (Upstate Venture Connect) teamed up with Startup Genome to map out what it terms an ecosystem of over 400 startups in a triangular region roughly defined by Buffalo, Poughkeepsie and Norfolk. UVC established itself to maintain and develop the ecosystem, which in addition to startups and mentors includes over 100 institutions of higher learning serving over half a million students – and receiving some $2.5 billion in R&D grants.
UVC assists early stage investing and advising groups in the area, with an eye to tapping university talent. “Upstate is finally capitalizing on the world class talent that comes to our 100 plus colleges and universities from all around the world,” UVC growth initiative director Jonathan Grutka told Dealflow.com.
Grutka said that UVC sees powerful synergies among members of the local startup community. “Each community today has hundreds of people who are choosing high tech entrepreneurial careers. Incubators and accelerators are full, as are meetups, startup weekends and hackathons, and business plan competitions are overloaded with entries. The primary challenge for our communities today is not a shortage of talented risk takers – it is that we need more experienced entrepreneurs and business leaders to engage with these startups as mentors and advisors. That is the key to helping startups become investor ready, and when startups are investor ready, angel and seed funding will flow as well.”
Accelerators and incubators in the area include Syracuse Student Sandbox, Colgate University Thought into Action, Buffalo Angels of WNYVA, POPSHOP, Albany’s Startup Grind and Seed Capital Fund of CNY.
High Tech Rochester (HTR) aims to catalyze startup action in the Finger Lakes and Rochester region of upstate New York – also the home of University of Rochester. Founded in 1987, HTR runs business incubator Lennox Tech Enterprise Center (TEC) and the Rochester BioVenture Center (RBC), and the State of New York has designated HTR the Regional Technology Development Center for the Finger Lakes are and a National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Extension Partner (NISTMEP). HTR’s 2013 Launchpad team includes Qmetrics, Immense Analytics/SnapEval and Gradfly – all of which have obtained equity backing. Other HTR successes include brand and design consultant bzdesign, catering software maker CaterTrax and algorithmic itinerary planner CityWhisk.
NEXUS-NY, based in West Henrietta, N.Y., focuses on supporting clean energy startups. The organization, which is administered by HTR, is part of a five-year, $5 million project sponsored by New York State Research and Development (NYSERDA), a public benefit corporation formed to pursue energy technology development that will improve the state’s economy and environment.
Early stage technology developers can seek several forms of assistance from NEXUS-NY, including financial support that averages $50,000 per team. The organization also offers a lean startup curriculum based on the National Science Foundation’s NSF Innovation Corps regime (I-Corps), mentoring and prototyping support. Among this year’s New Energy Xcelerator in UpState NY class are four teams from Cornell University. Additional funding may become available from Excell Partners, a regional partnership between the state of New York and University of Rochester. NEXUS-NY styles itself an incubator-agnostic organization that will support the best available energy technology in the area.
The Tech Garden is an industry-agnostic incubator based in Syracuse, where it serves entrepreneurs in central New York state. Programs include NYSERDA Clean Tech Center, Hack Upstate, Pre-Seed Workshops, Syracuse Tech Meetup, Startup Labs and Grants for Growth. Startup Labs is a three-week seed capital and mentoring program where entrants compete for $150,000 in convertible note financing and $50,000 in branding and marketing services. Grants for Growth has been providing funding since 2006 in the form of accelerator notes of up to $150,000 and proof of concept grants for $25,000. Current resident companies include attorney/client matchmaker Hometown Lawyers, social media charity specialist centscere, reputation manager BrandYourself and digital marketer Good Monster.
There is no shortage of entrepreneurialism north of the border, and barely a hundred miles northeast of Buffalo Creative Destruction Labs (CDL) works from University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management to assist startups in Canada. The organization’s eight-month program offers options for mentoring, workshops, and office space in the areas of marketing, accounting, and other advisory services. Candidates from the program meet with the CDL’s Group of Seven Fellows (G7) to develop a plan of action. Last fall CDL announced that the eight companies in its first cohort had created $65 million in equity. Members of CDL’s first cohort include political activist tool Vote Compass, gesture control armband maker Thalmic labs and biometric specialist Bionym.