SEDC to Launch Innovative Incubator
SARATOGA COUNTY – Polish up those ideas because, come Spring, the Saratoga Economic Development Agency (SEDC) is launching an incubator that models innovative entrepreneurial support systems straight out of Silicon Valley, partly by looking at failure and eligibility a little differently than most.
Executive Director of the Clarkson University Shipley Center for Innovation Matt Draper said an entrepreneur who has experienced failure, or an entrepreneur with an idea that would never head to the stock market, is just as eligible for Advance Saratoga Startup as the one who invents the next big tech gadget.
“It’s a huge part of the model,” said Draper. “Everyone points to Silicon Valley and what they are doing, but if you break down what they do better than anybody else, it’s recycle talent. Whether a startup is a success or fails, there is a tremendous amount of experience gained. We want to maintain the investment and engage it in a new way. Rather than making bets on 1 in 10 entrepreneurs, which is the national success average, this model makes sure the other 9 are engaged somehow.”
Dennis Brobston, President of SEDC, agrees. “If you’ve been a good CFO but the startup failed,” said Brobston, “it’s a badge of honor and you always try to hook those people up with people you know because you know their quality. All that talent that they’ve got in their brain combined with what they’ve learned shouldn’t go to waste.”
Brobston added that business networks all know who needs people, and making matches of complementary strengths is a good way to retain talent in Saratoga County, an important component of SEDC’s mission.
Advance Saratoga Startup, (a working title), seeks to accelerate entrepreneurial business growth, and is incorporating prominent members of the business community and local leaders to provide traditional methods of support such as business planning and market research assistance, as well as access to professional expertise to help overcome challenges. SEDC will work through area entrepreneur networks and student organizations in the coming weeks to develop an official name for the initiative.
The incubator was shaped over the course of 2016, culminating in an initial teaming agreement with Clarkson's Shipley Center for Innovation, which operates six business incubators and will provide support services to new entrepreneurs and early stage project teams and companies for Advance Saratoga Startup.
Draper attributes much of the success of the Center and its involvement in this new incubator to the University’s president.
“This all stems from the vision of our president, Tony Collins, who recognizes economic development can’t be successful without a thriving community around it,” said Draper. “Without a president as open as he is to us – none of this could happen. It is very much because of him that we are able to do this.”
Advance Saratoga Startup is set to open its virtual doors sometime in March, and entrepreneurs at any stage of business development are invited to apply.
“One of type of entrepreneur is the gazelle, the traditional high-technology fast-paced startup that we are looking to target with an IPO or acquisition,” said Shipley. “But the second – and often overlooked – is the relevant entrepreneur. These are people who bring value to the region – service providers, people who are one piece of a value chain, maybe a high school student who has an interest in something that sparks an idea. Our model is very much for everyone; we don’t ask people to self-aggregate which type of entrepreneur they are. Too many incubator models focus on one or the other. We are looking for more balance. It’s a really cool ecosystem that builds on itself and supports each other.”
Draper said the key to a successful incubator is not the location, but the programming that attracts and builds entrepreneurs. “The goal is not to duplicate or replicate what already exists. We are filling a niche for something not yet being met, and that makes the entire ecosystem that much stronger.”
Draper explained the entrepreneurial ecosystem is defined as the community or value chain. “Anybody that contributes to the overall success of a startup idea is part of that ecosystem,” said Draper. “It is the teacher that sparks the idea, the web developer that builds the website, the marketing talent that develops the brand working with a graphic artist developing the logo, and the machine shop that builds the first product sample. This model is meant to be inclusive not exclusive. The more we can leverage human capital, the faster we can get up and running.”
According to Brobston, SEDC and its incubator partners have embraced creating this accelerator in part because of the appeal and quality of life that Saratoga County offers. The County is already attracting talent who want to live here; who are seeking to live a quality work-play balance.
“Part of our byline is ‘promote, retain and grow.’ If we have people in Saratoga County working out of their home looking to start a business, we definitely want to work with them,” said Brobston, “but we’ll also be promoting the area to lots of places through our connections to universities and groups outside the area. We want to retain whoever is here, and there is quite a bit of talent here, and grow by providing opportunity for people to consider moving here from somewhere else.”
Dr. Kenneth J. Rotondo, President and Founding Partner of Mind Genomics Advisors said he was very excited when he learned about this project and is delighted to be a part of it. He serves on the Advance Saratoga Startup Advisory Team.
“I think this is definitely needed,” said Rotondo. “From what I’ve gathered living in Saratoga and having an office in Saratoga, I think there is a lot of creativity in a variety of disciplines from the arts and sciences to retail and business development. But there’s not something that allows easy entryway for advice or ideas. It will be very worthwhile and an obvious extension of SEDC’s mission. I turn down more of these things than you can imagine because I want to spend my time on something that has merit and will do some good. I think they are on to something here.”
Brobston recognizes that Advance Saratoga Startup is a startup in and of itself, but demand is high for entrepreneurial support in the region and the level of professional expertise available is an asset ready to give back.
“We’ll keep costs down by leveraging all these assets of staff time and mentors – marketing experts, legal experts – all willing to donate their time,” said Brobston, “as well as operating out of our facilities here in Saratoga Springs. The expertise from Clarkson, which has such a reliable network of undergrads and grads for research and three-D printing, is invaluable. In future, we envision a facility where these people can meet or work out of shared spaces, but much depends on how many applicants there are, their quality, and how quickly we can get them up and running.”