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Galvin critiques climate of upstate entrepreneurship

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Joe Schwartz
Greg Galvin

When Greg Galvin was invited to the stage to be named the 2014Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year, he was dressed in a suit and tie.

“This is just not going to work,” said Galvin, M.S. ’82, Ph.D. ’84, MBA ’93, chairman and CEO of Rheonix Inc. and Mezmeriz Inc., who exchanged his coat for a Cornell engineering hoodie and announced, “Now I’m an entrepreneur.”

Galvin, who was elected to the Cornell Board of Trustees in 2011 and serves on the advisory councils for the College of Engineering, the Department of Materials Science and Entrepreneurship@Cornell, was honored at an April 10 banquet.

“Greg is special not only because he is a successful Cornell alum, but because he is dedicated to Ithaca and the whole upstate New York community,” said Soumitra Dutta, dean of the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Galvin’s companies Rheonix, Kionix and Mesmerize are based in Ithaca, N.Y. “We got access to the Cornell Nanofabrication Facility,” said Galvin, explaining why he chose to locate in Ithaca. “We did not have the millions of dollars to spend on equipment and building clean rooms on day one. When the people, research and facilities were here, why move to somewhere sunny,” he joked.

“We should celebrate entrepreneurship at Cornell because it is happening here,” said Galvin. “When I came to college in 1980, there was no talk of entrepreneurship. There was some industrial collaboration. Faculty and students did not start companies.” He said the environment has changed dramatically since he started Kionix in 1993.

Galvin recognized the Downtown Ithaca Incubator, Southern Tier regional Hotspot and START-UP NY as some of the entrepreneurship initiatives in upstate New York, and he cited Tompkins County Area Development’s Transform Tompkins campaign to raise capital for entrepreneurial ventures in Tompkins County.

He also highlighted student entrepreneurship platforms such as the eLab, PopShop, Big Red Ventures, Cayuga Venture Fund, Big Idea Competition and Student Venture of the Year competition. “I had the privilege of being one of the judges and saw nine great companies. This wasn’t a business proposal competition, these are existing businesses with revenues in many cases,” said Galvin.

Speaking of the College of Engineering’s new marketing and branding strategy with the slogan, “Break the Rules,” Galvin said, “We don’t let things, including sometimes rules, get in the way of realizing our ambitions.”

However, Galvin said lack of investment capital is a challenge for upstate New York entrepreneurship. “Investment capital is the fuel for entrepreneurs. Without it, they go elsewhere,” he said. “We can’t create ventures without capital.”

Galvin said the problem is cyclical. “The money does not come here because people don’t think there is enough deal flow here. There aren’t deals here because there isn’t enough money for deals. We get companies started with our seed capital, but when it comes to the next round of funding, the companies move to Boston or Silicon Valley.”

Galvin attributed this problem to the lack of a central hub of entrepreneurial activity in upstate New York. “Investors don’t know about us or what’s really happening here,” he said. The entrepreneurial community here needs to tell its story better, spread its message and encourage venture capitalists to see the opportunities in this region, he said.

Sushmitha Krishnamoorthy ’17 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle. 

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