State-supported entrepreneurship launches businesses, creates jobs

Financial support from New York state, combined with universities’ innovation and assets, is a powerful catalyst that generates businesses and cultivates jobs, according to testimony from a key player in the upstate entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Tom Schryver ’93, MBA ’02, executive director of Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement, testified Nov. 10 to state legislators in Albany, saying state-funded entrepreneurship programs are an effective way to support economic growth. He addressed the Committee on Small Business and the Committee on Economic Development, Job Creation, Commerce and Industry.

“If we can leverage colleges and universities – our research, students, faculty and support structures – we can help people start and grow new businesses that diversify our economic base and provide good jobs upstate in the coming decades and beyond,” said Schryver, a visiting lecturer at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management and vice chair of the Business Incubator Association of New York State.

New York state’s competitive advantage lies in its higher ed institutions, Schryver said. That’s especially true in the Southern Tier. Across the U.S., there are 2.1 science, engineering, technology and math graduate students per 1,000 people. In the Southern Tier, it’s significantly higher, with 10.9 per 1,000, he said. And the top employers in six upstate counties are in “eds and meds” – educational institutions and health care centers, he said.

“In a nutshell, we have a base of large employers that are concentrated in two related industries that have been in a bull market for the last 30 years,” he said. So we must consider what might happen if the bull markets in those industries don’t continue to grow at the same breakneck pace over the next 30 years, he said.

“The obvious question is, what do we do about it?” he said. “How can we leverage our strengths to diversify our economy and provide a broader base upon which we can generate employment for our residents and a solid tax base to provide needed services and support a good quality of life?”

Leveraging higher education as a source of innovation and a mechanism for teaching and support is the way to do it, he said. “That is why NYSTAR’s work is so important.”

NYSTAR, Empire State Development’s Division of Science, Technology and Innovation, accelerates the growth of the state’s high-tech economy by providing matching funding to certified incubators and the Innovation Hot Spot system, including the Southern Tier Startup Alliance. In turn, the alliance supports business incubators in Ithaca, Binghamton and Corning.

NYSTAR funding allows the alliance to provide its 90 member and tenant companies with workshops, training and advising, Schryver said. “A specific focus of ours is helping companies access equity capital,” he said. “This is an area where having a critical mass really helps.”

This year the alliance’s entrepreneurs in residence have advised 19 startup companies on raising capital, leading to more than $26 million raised, he said. “NYSTAR’s funding enables this activity and ensures that we work together as a region to support startups.”

He gave a few examples of companies that have become regional success stories thanks to state funding.

Ursa Space Systems was founded by Cornell engineering alumni who moved back to Ithaca from Silicon Valley in 2014 to start their satellite imaging company, joining forces with a local entrepreneur. Ursa released the world’s first comprehensive weekly China oil inventory report in May and will have global coverage in 2018. The company employs 11 people and plans to hire 15 more in 2018. Ursa recently raised $7 million in equity capital from venture capitalists in Silicon Valley and New York City, and is a member of New York State’s START-UP NY tax incentive program.

Rosie App, founded in 2012 by two Cornell MBA students, makes an application that allows customers to order groceries from independent grocers. Rosie App is working with more than 100 retailers representing 300-plus locations in 23 states, and recently signed an agreement with Retailer Owned Food Distributors & Associates to bring their online shopping platform to over 2,000 independent U.S. grocery stores over the next two years. Rosie anticipates growing from its current 27 employees to more than 50 within the next year.

And C4V, spun out of Binghamton University, optimizes lithium ion batteries to extend battery life. C4V initially based its operations at Startup Suite, a state-funded business incubator. C4V was also a 2016 NYSERDA 76West winner, a competition implemented in partnership with Cornell. In 2017, the company was named as one of three companies that will form the backbone of the Imperium3NY consortium, a group of 10 firms that will establish R&D and production operations at the vacant, formerly-IBM campus in Endicott. The consortium will invest more than $130 million to found New York’s first giga-factory making lithium ion batteries, creating more than 200 jobs by the end of 2019.

“I strongly believe that this region is a great place to start and grow a new business, but as you can see, it takes a village,” Schryver said. “And when we can leverage the support of the state and the innovation and support from the state’s colleges and universities, we can see real results.”

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Rebecca Valli