2016 Venture Ecosystem Award Winner Jason Kuruzovich Talks About His Involvement in the Upstate New York Startup Community
Upstate New York’s startup community is something Jason Kuruzovich knows about. Kuruzovich is an Associate Professor at RPI and the director of the Severino Center for Entrepreneurship. He also co-host popular Capital Region networking event Startup Tech Valley. In 2016, Jason was honored with a Campus Connector Award for his commitment to Upstate’s venture ecosystem.
I recently caught up with Jason to learn more about his involvement with the Upstate New York startup community, how others can join the ecosystem, and what’s next on the horizon.
Describe Startup Tech Valley, and how you grew it from an idea into what has become Upstate’s premier tech meetup group.
I got involved with a tech meetup at RPI when I first started there—it was good, there was a lot of activity and networking, but we weren’t interacting with the entrepreneurship community. I thought about some of my own preferences as well as Brad Feld’s book Startup Communities and decided to combine social events with beer and entrepreneurs. It didn’t seem like a hard formula.
Startup Tech Valley has tried to maintain consistency in programming, while showing people lots of new startups based in the region and people that are trying to go through this hard thing that’s entrepreneurship. There’s a whole team of people who support Startup Tech Valley, as well as some great sponsors.
Beyond Startup Tech Valley, what other things are you involved with to help first time tech entrepreneurs? How has UVC helped?
A lot of what the Severino Center for Entrepreneurship does is to try to get people launched from a very early idea stage to something that you could potentially pitch at a business plan competition or to an accelerator. We help entrepreneurs on their journey from idea to having something. We run a variety of programs and communities that try to facilitate that. For example, one of our programs gives early stage startups up to $3,000 to do customer discovery, go to potential customer sites, go to conferences—anything that’s going to give them more feedback from the marketplace on the potential demand for whatever it is that they are creating.
I think UVC has been a really important component in giving us a broader reach once students get to a certain stage. UVC has created an Upstate entrepreneurship community that extends past the narrow boundaries of the Capital Region—it has helped us to understand both what’s going on in the other regions and have the network so that we can reach out and get advice from other people.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for the Tech Valley startup scene?
The state government has made a strong investment, or case for investment, in the startup community. Further partnering with the state government to double down the impact of our programs is something we’re definitely in the early stages of exploring.
Also, the entrepreneurship programs I’m involved in are always seeking entrepreneurs who are interested in providing mentorship and potential investment to earlier stage ventures.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in Upstate New York’s startup community?
I think there’s a lot of different ways someone could get involved. In the programs I’m involved with, successful entrepreneurs offer their time to the startups with coaching. We also have people who come from the community who want to start their own business.
These programs are available for all, where someone can take part both as a contributor to the ecosystem, and as a participant as a startup drawing from the resources. What we really try to do is keep that openness there and encourage as many people as we can to get involved.
What do you like to do outside of teaching/the startup world?
Time with family and travel is always good. I would say that I definitely want to do more running this year, as well as running and biking and a little cross country skiing in the winter.
The Upstate Unleashed and 2017 Venture Ecosystem Awards will be held on September 19 at the Marriott Syracuse. Join in the experience by nominating your favorite ecosystem builders and registering for early-bird tickets.