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"A collaborative culture of doing is always the methodology. Getting things done that lead to positive and successful results is always the focus." 

So Robert Manasier summarizes his approach to business. He gets things done in a wide array of spheres, producing value not only in enterprises he owns and steers himself but in dozens of startups that come to the Innovate 518 (NYS Innovation Hot Spot Program) seeking his help as Entrepreneur-in- Residence and New Ventures Manager. 

If you're a new or deciding entrepreneur, Innovate518 should be your first stop. A collaborative effort of incubators, accelerators, and service providers in the Capital Region, it serves as a regional hub for entrepreneurs in eight counties, including Saratoga County. Among its partners are the University at Albany Innovation Center, IGNITEU NY, Upstate Venture Connect, the Center for Economic Growth, NYSTEC, and SUNY Adirondack. 


Growing the 'Rain Forest' 
"My job is to drive commercialization by connecting entrepreneurs to needed and timely resources and the startup ecosystem," he says. He gives startups guidance in tech transfer, funding, leadership, operational efficiencies and business development, making the connections they need to grow as quickly as plants in a rainforest. 

Victor Hwang and Greg Horowitt popularized that metaphor in their business best-seller, The Rain Forest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley. When applied to the startup economy of the Capital Region, Manasier's combination of nuts-and-bolts advice and enthusiasm can be described as a key nutrient that supports a grove of promising seedlings and saplings. 

Manasier also works with entrepreneurs planting their businesses at IGNITEU NY, an early-entry accelerator established by NYSTEC with a focus on young operational companies, and at The Sage Colleges, where he's a member of the business faculty and entrepreneur in residence. After spearheading the High School StartUp NY Competition at UAlbany, he assisted High School Business Plan Competition annually sponsored by the Center for Economic Growth with a new student-focused workshop pre-event. Among the assignments: Students must make a one-minute video to play for the judges in supporting their pitch. 

“The earlier we can embed students in an entrepreneurial ecosystem, the better life skills and experiences they’ll have,” he says. 

Sigma Beta Delta, the international honor society for business, management and administration, has inducted Manasier as an honorary lifetime member. In 2015, Upstate Venture Connect (UVC) gave Manasier its "Magical Mentor" Award. In 2017, they celebrated him as a Venture Ecosystem Champion and Deal of the Year nominee. 


Beginnings
All of this started nearly 40 years ago when Manasier -- as a 13-year old growing up in New York -- launched D&M Landscaping, a company he would maintain through college as a way to pay the bills and his college education. Employing friends as co-workers gave him his first experience in building a successful team, drawing on lessons he learned on the baseball and football fields. 

“I didn’t have any money, and I thought I could help the family,” he says.  “Desperation is a great motivator, I had to make it work." 

After graduating from UAlbany as a biology major, Manasier did a year of medical school before taking a leave of absence to explore his filmmaking ideas and set off for California. He had worked since high school in the film world and had drafted a new model for producing films and had the ability to create and lead a successful team so he went to test those assumptions. 


"I knew how to write. I had people skills and a more efficient way to create content. And I had passion. That got us through our first couple of projects. I found the people I needed with technical skills in all aspects of the film world and kept them on staff full time. We created a springboard to prove we could do what we said we could." 

Filmmaking taught Manasier how to package and pitch a project to prospective investors. From there, it was only a small leap to pitch investors on ideas for new businesses. Manasier found enough success to make his way to an office in the World Trade Center, only to lose it and many friends in the terrorist attack of 9/ll. 

That's when he decided to move his family out of New York City. In 2004, he launched In Focus Brands as an international portfolio-building company that "begins, grows and guides other companies to success, growth and exit." 

"We made a lot of humbling mistakes in our early days, but we've always been driven to improve," he says. "Along the way, we found a very focused and successful way to build great teams with great business cultures that fit a defined brand." 


Brand, Culture, and Team 
Manasier no longer owns most of the 144 businesses his firm In Focus Brands and several affiliated companies have played a role in developing. Some have gone under while others have been sold to other companies. "It was around the 40 to 50 mark that I realized we'd found a real system -- or formula -- for starting businesses." 

"Everything begins with brand," he says. "That includes how you deal with your staff and your customers. Why are we here? Why are we doing this? We have to get to the core of what they’re trying to do and how they’re going to do it, so we always focus on internal brand and culture first. We treat them as one."

After brand and culture, Manasier focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of the team. "We’re not going to come in and do what you're already doing well. We're going to do what you don't do well." 

"The one thing we avoid at all costs is ego. There’s a fine line between the ego of the self and the ego of the team. All we care about is the project's end goal. It’s like a military mindset. We’re going to sink or swim together." 

"To coach someone is to hold him or her accountable. You set expectations early and then you find out who's really on your team or not."

Manasier finds his firm focusing increasingly on Europe these days. That's where his firm is growing a series of white label services for scaling businesses and new brands in technology, branded human resources and sales system and a line of environmentally friendly products, among other ventures. Recently completing a merger with a Texas-based private equity firm, the company has opened offices in the South and Midwest.    

While Manasier thinks the drive to be an entrepreneur is "inherent in the person and can't be taught," he knows from long experience that any student can learn to apply main principles of entrepreneurship in virtually any endeavor -- establishing a particular course of action toward a particular goal, collecting feedback to evaluate progress, and pivoting in more promising directions. 

"We have a vibrant community of accomplished business professionals who are generous with their time, so I encourage any young person to take advantage of that and ask questions." 

Carter-Kavanagh 

The SMARTACUS Creative Group is a student-driven creative agency dedicated to supporting the economic development of Upstate New York. Dan Forbush is its publisher, while Carter Kavanagh is a senior in Jill Cowburn's class at Saratoga Springs High School. He has a special interest in languages and history.
Published in Lifestyle
Thursday, 02 February 2017 14:04

Entrepreneurs Welcome

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.”

For more information or for those interested in becoming a mentor, contact Ryan Van Amburgh This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit www.saratogaedc.com.

 

 

 

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