State of the Upstate NY Start-up Ecosystem

I. Introduction

The purpose of this article is to analyze the startup ecosystem in upstate NY. I’ll analyze some of the pros & cons of ecosystem, some strategies for improving upon some of the issues, and an overview of start-up oriented meetups and organizations that help entrepreneurs to thrive in the upstate ecosystem. In order to continue to increase awareness, I will follow up this article in the coming weeks with some profiles on local start-ups and makers to watch. Additionally, I’m in the process of setting up a podcast titled “Upstate Venture Stories” so if you know anybody in particular I should interview, or would like to work with me, please do reach out — noahmadden@gmail.com.

II. Pros/Cons of Ecosystem

Pros:

  • Diverse market focus based all across Upstate NY
  • Pay employees higher than Upstate norms
  • Receiving support from public and private sources
  • In need of college educated employees to achieve growth targets

Cons:

According to UVC’s 2017 CEO Report, only around 50% of the 101 scalable companies surveyed in the upstate NY ecosystem are recruiting on, at most, two local campuses. Additionally, scalable firms identified $624 million in equity capital requirements for creating 6,000 new jobs in NYS.

Thus, two of the biggest issues facing upstate scalable firms are:

  1. Recruiting and retaining local talent
  2. Access to early stage capital

III. Where we can improve

Recruiting and retaining local talent: the upstate area contains a plethora of college educated individuals, which is a key factor for scalable firms to continue to meet growth targets and create more jobs. We need to do a much better job of connecting graduating seniors and local talent with entry-level roles at scalable companies. Some ideas for attacking this issue:

  • Shadow programs that allow students to visit local start-ups and get a feel for what it’s like to work for a high growth organization.
  • Job fairs that connect high-growth companies with potential interns and entry-level employees.
  • Organized internship programs that allow students to build resume worthy experience at local start-ups.
  • A website that curates upstate start-up jobs for students and local job seekers. Similar to AngelList but solely focuses on the upstate NY ecosystem.

Access to early stage capital: seed capital and early stage financing is necessary for these high-growth companies to scale and create more jobs. Traditionally, if a company wanted to raise money, they would look to New York City, or Silicon Valley for financing. In an increasingly digital age, it’s easier than ever to raise money online from a global stage of investors. In order to meet the capital demand of scalable firms in upstate NY, there needs to be an increase in the number and activity of angel, and seed funds. According to UVC, there are a couple ways to bridge this gap:

  • Publicizing and processing existing investment tax credits, such as QETC (Qualified Emerging Technology Company) program so that investors see that there is a near-term tax benefit to what may otherwise seem to be a long-term high risk investment. Take a look at UVC’s letter to NYS Senator Seward addressing this issue.
  • NYS can invest in a region-wide platform linking accredited investors and seed funds for improved investor visibility and recognition of successes.
  • NYS can also focus more funding/incentives on in-region scalable companies in the 6–10 year cohort as they are more likely to grow locally, have a much higher likelihood of success than fledgling startups and offer a relatively high return on public dollars.
  • There are also a number of platforms for non-accredited investors to make investments in technology companies, such as SeedInvest, Republic, and Wefunder. If we can invest time in educating younger generations on the potential of investing small sums into startups in the region, we can assist in the creation of new angel investors.

IV. Start-up oriented Meet-ups/events

From my perspective, there is certainly a need for more start-up oriented meetups in the upstate ecosystem. Meetups are a great way to network, educate on your product/service, and build a sense of fluidity in a startup ecosystem. Here are some that I’m aware of and are making an impact in the upstate ecosystem:

Startup TechValley (Troy): One of my favorites. STV is a monthly meetup for first-time entrepreneurs, experienced entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, employees of startups, service providers to startups, and anyone else who wants to be involved. Its mission is to provide events that engage what Brad Feld has described as the entire entrepreneurial stack, which includes “first-time entrepreneurs, experienced entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, employees of startups, service providers to startups, and anyone else who wants to be involved.” More specifically, we want to provide a place where individuals can:

  • Hear words of wisdom from experienced entrepreneurs.
  • Launch their new venture to the public.
  • Provide new product demos/pitches and obtain feedback (and potentially initial customers).

Startup Grind Albany: Startup Grind is a global startup community designed to educate, inspire, and connect entrepreneurs. We host monthly events in 200 cities and 85 countries featuring successful local founders, innovators, & investors.

The monthly events are open to anyone interested or involved in startups and there are no annual or membership fees.

Capital Region Startup Foundry (Troy): For startup founders, by startup founders.

According to Techstars, the best startup communities are lead by startup founders themselves. But, there aren’t any founder-led startup communities in the Capital Region, and we’d like to change that.

Don’t get us wrong, there are some great support groups in the area! But until Founders take the lead, the Capital Region will always lag behind.

So we’ve created this group to get that process started. Our first invite-only meetup is a special call to all startup founders/co-founders in the Capital Region to discuss the organization and creation of such a group — with a working name of “The Capital Region Startup Foundry”.

Sharatoga Tech Talks (Saratoga Springs): Sharatoga TechTalks is a monthly meetup for technology professionals in the Saratoga Spring, NY and Capital District area. Each monthly we’ll have 4–5 individuals presenting ~10 minute tech talks on various topics ranging from software development, social media strategy, product development, UI/UX graphic design, marketing & advertising, and iOS/Android mobile development.

Hudson Valley Tech Meetup (Kingston): Hudson Valley Tech Meetup is a monthly gathering of creatives, engineers, entrepreneurs, educators, students, and genuine lovers of technology who share their passion for all things tech in the Hudson Valley of NY State.

We alternate our meeting spot each month across the Hudson River. Right now our two main locations are Kingston and Poughkeepsie but we plan to expand that up and down the river as much as possible.

At each meetup we have 3 speakers share their passion about something that is related to technology. One of these is usually a startup demo. At the end of the presentations we do a Q&A that always guarantees to be a lively discussion.

Ithaca Startup Community (Ithaca): Ithaca Startup Community is a community group with a mission of bringing together student and professional entrepreneurs in Ithaca and providing networking and growth opportunities. The group is focused primarily on offering peer-to-peer support for the challenges and opportunities that high growth entrepreneurs face. Our goal is to create a more active and vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in Ithaca.

I’m sure there’s more entrepreneurial meetups that I may not be aware of. If you know of any that I should add to this list, please do reach out!

V. Organizations that help entrepreneurs

Upstate Venture Connect (Syracuse): Upstate Venture Connect (UVC) is a 501c3 non-profit supported by tax deductible donations. Our mission is to connect and empower Upstate NY entrepreneurs with the resources for building high-growth companies.

Wasabi Ventures (Utica): Wasabi Ventures offers Silicon Valley VC-style services to strong secondary markets. The firm specializes in cofounding, investing in, incubating, building, and advising early-stage technology companies. Its approach allows early-stage startups to gain traction quickly through interaction with its founders. The firm is also involved in entrepreneurial education programs, such as the Wasabi Ventures Academy, that move cutting-edge technologies out from leading federal, corporate, and university research labs around the world and into the market through the formation of startup ventures.

Tech Valley Center of Gravity (Troy): The Tech Valley Center of Gravity is a membership organization offering space, equipment, education and camaraderie to makers, hackers, crafters, tinkerers and artists. Our goal at the CoG is to support members as they share knowledge and expertise that allows people to do for themselves, rather than just passively consuming, and work to integrate the arts, crafts, and technologies that surround us every day. We offer presentations, classes and workshops on a myriad of topics from electronics to 3D printing to welding, and the opportunity to network with folks with the same interests, needs and goals. Members also get access to the makerspace and its tools and equipment, which include 3D printers, laser cutters, and an entire woodshop, metalshop and welding area.

1 Million Cups (Albany): 1 Million Cups is a free, national program designed to educate, engage, and connect entrepreneurs. Developed by the Kauffman Foundation, 1MC is based on the notion that entrepreneurs discover solutions and network over a million cups of coffee. Every Wednesday morning, one or two early-stage startups present their companies to a diverse audience of their peers, mentors, educators, and advisors.

IgniteU (Troy): IgniteU NY’s mission is to foster the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem in Central and Upstate New York and prepare local startups for seed funding and entrance into later- stage accelerators. Ignite operates an 8-week summer accelerator program for early stage start-ups based on Lean Startup methodolgy.

Startup NY (Albany): START-UP NY offers new and expanding businesses the opportunity to operate tax-free for 10 years on or near eligible university or college campuses in New York State. Partnering with these schools gives businesses direct access to advanced research laboratories, development resources and experts in key industries.

Innovate 518 (Albany): Innovate 518 orchestrates a robust and connected entrepreneurial ecosystem of incubators, accelerators and support organizations to assist in growing sustainable and scalable technology ventures. Innovate 518 is a partnership between the University at Albany, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Center for Economic Growth, and is designated as a New York State Innovation Hot Spot by NYSTAR.

Spark Saratoga (Saratoga Springs): Spark Saratoga is the culmination of the work by the Saratoga Economic Development Corporation (SEDC), its investor members, and local entrepreneurs. We will continue to grow and expand with the needs of Saratoga County’s startup community and early stage companies. To inspire innovation and collaboration, SEDC has reached out to technology, creative, and business sectors to bring together a motivated advisory board with a primary goal of building and expanding the environment needed to nurture innovators and startup companies. These leaders, all active community members, are working toward a goal of a thriving business incubator and providing expert-level services.

StartFast Venture Accelerator (Syracuse): StartFast is a mentorship-driven startup accelerator. Each year we choose 5–10 software, mobile and internet companies for an intense 3-month program in Syracuse, NY.

Blackstone LaunchPad (Syracuse): The Blackstone LaunchPad at Syracuse University connects the campus innovation ecosystem with a global network that provides support for aspiring entrepreneurs. The LaunchPad is supported through seed funding from the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, and is part of a global network located at 20 universities around the world. The LaunchPad is located on the main floor of Bird Library, with flex space that can be used for ideation workshops, team and mentor meetings, co-working, networking events, coaching and training sessions, venture demos and product launches, as well as other collaborative activities. Ventures receive coaching from staff, professional service providers, mentors and Global Fellows.

GENIUS NY (Syracuse): GENIUS NY is a one year in-residence business accelerator program at The Tech Garden in Central New York that goes beyond substantial direct investment. In addition to three grand prizes of up to $1 million, $600,000 and $400,000, the program also offers company stipends, housing, resources, programming, and connections, making it among the largest competitions of its kind across the globe. The program is made possible by $5 million in funding support provided by Empire State Development, New York State’s chief economic development agency.

43 North (Buffalo): 43NORTH makes a bold, fearless, beautiful, entrepreneurial city on the rise. Together, we make BUFFALO. With $5 MILLION in prizes, 43North is a competition that’s in a league of its own. But it’s more than that. For winners, it’s an amazing staff and dedicated mentors. And free incubator space. And healthy tax-breaks. And some fierce ping pong.

AFRL Commercialization Academy (Rome): The Commercialization Academy pairs high-caliber founders with high-potential AFRL technologies with the goals of developing entrepreneurial leaders and launching new technology ventures.

The AFRL Commercialization Academy is a Griffiss Institute entrepreneurial education program sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory Information Directorate (AFRL/RI). The Griffiss Institute has partnered with Wasabi Ventures to run the academy since 2015. The Academy pairs high-caliber founders with high-potential AFRL technologies with the goals of developing entrepreneurial leaders and launching new technology ventures.

The Commercialization Academy program is derived from the proven Wasabi Ventures Academy curriculum and acceleration process which has supported more than 200 startups over the past decade, consists of three component tracks which run concurrently:

1. Entrepreneurship education for founders
2. Technology due diligence, ideation and market validation
3. Team and Company formation, technology licensure and business acceleration

For a full list of organizations that help start-ups, check out UVC’s Upstate NY Ecosystem map on the home page of their website.

Thank you for reading, if you enjoyed this, give me a follow for more upcoming content on the upstate NY start-up ecosystem. My goal is to continue to increase public awareness on startups and the organizations that help these startups to thrive in the upstate area.

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