As an entrepreneur, I’ve already built a large company in an industry that did not exist at the time I began such a journey. These are challenges I understand and appreciate. Not only from my own company experience, but also the privilege I’ve had to work alongside thousands of small, private capital backed companies as my firm TriNet, helped those companies achieve their dream of success.
So what’s in it for me to drive such a significant investment of my own capital and time to pursue this vision of transforming the Upstate economy? How will UVC play a hand in helping to create hundreds, and someday thousands, of new companies that will be pursuing dreams of their own in fields that most people in Upstate NY do not yet understand?
Parents Get This
If you’re a parent in Upstate NY, understanding the big picture motivator is a no brainer. We have world class education and quality of life communities here, and all of us that put kids through college come to accept the reality that after they graduate – our children will move on to other areas where the opportunities are more in line with their aspirations since there are so few jobs here that are in tomorrow’s business model or industry. As families disperse, our own quality life goes down. What parent looks forward to their child moving across the country so that future contact is only on an infrequent basis?
Silicon Valley Perspective Shapes My Outlook
I returned to my Upstate hometown in 1999 because of my family roots here and the desire my wife and I share to raise our children in this environment as opposed to the large metropolitan environment of the San Francisco Bay Area where we started our business. While this required a significant personal time loss spent commuting back and forth to Silicon Valley over 10 years, I have no regrets about the tradeoffs involved.
Throughout those commuting years, which included much travel and engagement in other markets around the U.S. with client companies who were emerging growth technology firms, I paid special attention to the attributes of those communities. I was intellectually aroused by the provocative question of “Given the tremendous assets that Upstate New York enjoys relative to other parts of the country, why is it that we have so few companies that get started up in a Silicon Valley model such as being a private capital backed company?”
Years of long plane flights, conversations with people in a variety of markets, and continual peeling back of the layers on what it takes to succeed as an emerging innovation company (e.g. leveraging a non traditional business model or technology) it became a long term education for me to develop a grounded perspective that I could keep within context of how things look to an aspiring entrepreneur.
The Formula Is Not Rocket Science
Unfortunately there are not enough people I’ve met Upstate who appreciate how a place like Silicon Valley really works. Specifically, how could an entrepreneur with no revenue or assets convince a total stranger to buy shares in a venture – putting the entire investment at risk for an idea that the investor may not completely understand or appreciate? Yet that is exactly what happens, not just in Silicon Valley but also markets like Boston, New York City, Austin, San Diego, Boulder, Northern Virginia and many others.
Why is it that someone with a “concept” can find the resources to create a Facebook, YouTube, Google (or any other number of new models that are now big time brand names) when the same idea birthed in Upstate NY would probably not get to first base? What are we doing wrong here? Are the people in Silicon Valley and these other markets that much smarter than those coming out of Upstate colleges and universities?
I can tell you from first hand experience in all of these markets that the answer is a resounding no. We’ve got some terrifically smart people here with vision and entrepreneur qualities that if they were simply transported to Silicon Valley (as I happened to be when I had my entrepreneurial epiphany) would probably be able to create world class companies with jobs our Upstate college graduating children would be lining up for.
So what’s the Silicon Valley Secret?
Hint: It’s hard, but not rocket science. Hard, because the traditional approaches don’t work and the majority population (who are unfamiliar with new technology or business models) will gravitate to the familiar of the historical past and give you lots of reasons why something new will not work here.
Now this is not a new challenge for entrepreneurs anywhere. What helps in Silicon Valley, that we don’t have the benefit here Upstate, is a dense market where likeminded entrepreneurs, capital providers, service companies, and a variety of mentors in specialized industries can locate each other so that the emerging entrepreneur can find the financing, talent and relationships he or she needs to navigate through the pre-revenue and capital insufficiency phases.
Is there a realistic Upstate solution?
My travels throughout the Upstate region these past couple years has convinced me that the necessary assets to grow emerging companies exist here. But there is simply no efficient mechanism for those that need the resources to find those that have them available.
Our markets of the Capital District, Syracuse, Rochester, Ithaca and Buffalo are geographically dispersed, though not so much as to exclude greater regional collaboration. We have a number of incubators, entrepreneur support organizations, educational and economic development organizations with charters to encourage emerging entrepreneurs in innovation industries. All of them will tell you there are no mechanisms for these institutions to collaborate and share their individual resource networks.
Throughout this site you will see further background and explanations for the vision of Vconnect, our starting point to increase the collaboration between our existing institutions as well as the individual connectivity between entrepreneurs and critical resources like capital providers, talent and mentors needed to grow their businesses.
I am absolutely convinced that the assets already in place Upstate have the potential to create the hundreds, and someday thousands, of these innovation oriented companies that will increasingly be the magnet to keep more of our graduating students here in the Upstate region as opposed to our waving good bye as they leave to pursue dreams elsewhere.
A growing economy helps not only retain our youth and preserve our families, but also to preserve the quality of our local communities and institutions which are clearly jeopardized if we fail to reverse the region’s economic decline and brain drain of recent decades.
Not A Short Term Gig
This is not a year or two fling I am taking, but a deep commitment to help nudge movement towards systemic change. Results will only be achieved with a multi-year effort supported by likeminded individuals and institutions who are equally committed to the vision that creating lots of small, innovation oriented companies is a realistic path that can best be achieved through increased collaboration and connectivity of our existing assets.
I am invigorated by the challenge and have confidence that progress can and will be made. I welcome the opportunity to discuss the vision and action plans to foster collaboration and connectivity as the path by which Upstate advances to become a powerhouse of the coming innovation economy.
~ Martin Babinec