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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.”
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Tale of Two Cities: Varied Welcome for $90M in Workforce Housing
BALLSTON SPA/MECHANICVILLE — A combined $90 million in apartment developments are receiving widely varied receptions in Mechanicville and Ballston Spa. Both projects are considered “workforce” housing, generally targeting tenants with household incomes ranging from about $35,000 to $80,000 annually. One town has been welcoming of workforce neighbors and community investment, and the other has not. Brian Donato, senior project director at Conifer Realty said the combined two-phase Blue Heron Trail project located in Ballston Spa totals about $35 million. The 142-apartment complex on 17 acres has already broken ground on Route 67 near East Line Road and expects to start leasing this fall with a goal of completing both phases of the project in Spring 2018.
“We really appreciated working with the Town of Ballston,” said Donato. “They were really helpful throughout the process. We’ve gone through the approvals and the Town was very supportive of it. There is a lot of market rate development in the area and very little of the workforce housing income range, and really, it’s been very well supported.”
Donato said that Conifer Realty is also proposing a similar project in Malta on 16 acres along Route 9, but it is in very preliminary stages. He said that so far, the Malta site has also been well received. The story is not so smooth in Mechanicville, according to Bill McNeary, president of Logistics One and owner of the 11-acre property where the $55 million, 227-unit Hudson Riverview Apartments development has been proposed. The rents would range from $760 to $1,275 per month and are targeted to an average household income of $47,461.
“This kind of development is a savior of affordable housing,” said McNeary, “because funding with tax credits allows a developer to build a high quality project and build it at half the price, so working class people aren’t overburdened with spending over 30 percent of their income on rent.”
McNeary said there are 28 units set aside for veterans and victims of domestic violence, both populations that already exist locally and are in need of quality, affordable housing. But the remaining 200 units would house people in the targeted income range, such as teachers, nurses, police officers, retail workers, and hundreds of other careers that fall in that range.McNeary said there originally was support from the mayor and other locals, and he was very surprised about the change of heart as local officials began pulling their support.
“The opposition to the project is from those who don’t want housing on the site,” said McNeary. “Some have been led to believe there would be Section 8 there, but there wouldn’t be. People who work at DiSiena Furniture could live there. People are saying they want development that creates jobs, but that property isn’t zoned for commercial – it’s mixed use. We aren’t going to build a factory or mall here, so why not use it to the advantage of the community and bring in people? Employed people who could shop in the town?”
The developer, Chris Dirr, Vice President of the NRP Group, has decades of experience in this type of housing across the country. He said he had initially looked to put high-end units at that location, but could not find any investors – which is the same problem McNeary had when he first tried to look into high-end development there.
“We discovered for the most part that unless there’s somebody specifically drawn to Mechanicville, there aren’t a lot of strategic benefits to locating there,” said Dirr about the investors. “For trade and distribution, its proximity to the interstate. It’s just too far from the Northway. There are too many other parcels readily available closer to the interstate. And there is not enough population at all for retail. For national big box retailers, there’s not enough density of population, and they like to be close to interchanges and interstates as well.”
McNeary pointed to the Ellsworth Commons development in Malta. “That’s a four-lane road there right off exit 12,” he said, “and if they can’t get that filled, how can we do it in Mechanicville?” Dirr said that Malta Town Supervisor Tom Richardson has been a great advocate for the City of Mechanicville. “If it were not for his efforts, we would not have made the time and energy to come up with something to compliment those efforts. I actually looked at and passed on the site in Ballston that Conifer is doing because I didn’t think it had that same synergy, the green field development adjacent to a historic, walkable community. I thought this site had a more compelling story, and it makes sense to use housing to engage community revitalization.”
The project had applied for a PILOT, but with the opposition, Dirr decided not to continue that application.
Supervisor Richardson said in a statement, “After meeting with Chris Dirr of the NRP Group and property owner, Bill McNeary, about some community opposition to the proposed 227 unit, multi-phase, Hudson Riverview Apartments project, The NRP Group has announced that it will not seek IDA assistance, otherwise known as a PILOT – payment in lieu of tax agreement. We believe this is a step in the right direction to provide affordable, workforce housing. I look forward to further conversation with The NRP Group and support its decision to postpone the Planning and Zoning Bard meeting schedule for January 9 to allow the company to continue dialogue with concerned residents and plan for a formal site plan review meeting.” Dirr intends to keep moving forward with the project, working in partnership with the community as he has done on all of his prior projects.
“For all of the folks that have been naysays to the development,” said Dirr, “nobody has offered a credible alternative to redevelopment of that site. The city has never seen a $50 million developer. The development would pay taxes, it would introduce 227 units of people, living there, spending money, walking in community. I am committed to continue to work with Bill, the owner of the site, and the community to develop something that will be an asset to the community, and at the end of the day if my development doesn’t happen, the city and community will have a vacant site that can’t really be developed for any other purpose.”
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A Pet Lodge and a Wine Bistro Coming to Saratoga?
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Matt Sames thinks it makes sense to open a Pet Lodge with a focus on “doggie daycare” in dog-friendly, walkable Saratoga Springs. And when he stumbled upon some great property, perfect for a little wine bistro, he thought he’d give that a try, too.
The successful businessman opened his first Pet Lodge in 2005 with his partners, Bill Davis and veterinarian Tom Brown. The business offers doggie day care, kitty camp, pet boarding, webcams, and everything possible to assure a safe, healthy, happy experience for pets. Pet Lodge has now grown to five locations: Latham; Glenville; Clifton Park; Plattsburgh; and Williston, Vermont. Sames said he is trying to get approval to build the Pet Lodge near the Hibachi Sushi Bar restaurant on Route 9.
“We started discussions with the City about a year ago,” he said. “It’s going a little slower than we would like, but it seems to be an extremely thorough process. The project currently lies somewhere between the zoning board and the planning board. There are a lot of layers in the planning process, and they won’t meet again until after the holidays.”
Sames said he’s had his eye on that area for years, but his business plan was forestalled when his daughter, Hannah, was diagnosed with a rare disease a little over 8 years ago. He turned his attention to fund raising through Hannah’s Hope Fund and hiring a scientific team to come up with treatment, which it looks like they have done.
“We are really ecstatic, it looks like it may be helping her,” said Sames. “It was pretty monumental. One of the doctors said it would take ten years and $10 million to save her, and it ended up 8 years and little less than $8 million. We also treated five other children with the same rare disease.”
All that joy couldn’t help but spill over into his business life, so following his dream to put a Pet Lodge off exit 13N was natural. And then when he discovered the 20 Bowman Street property that is zoned for a restaurant, he thought he could also fulfill his dream of owning a wine bistro.
“It’s going to be small,” he said. “The whole bottom floor will only be 1,500 square feet, including the kitchen and bathroom. It’ll have a robust wine list and small plates, some assorted vodkas and a couple craft brews – we’d like to have some local flavor.”
Sames said they went in front of the planning board, but the vote was tabled when some of the neighbors came out against it.
“I guess they were worried about noise,” said Sames, “but the board members are going to go look at it, and it will be on the agenda again. We’re not going to have outdoor music, and the whole place is only 54 seats. I’ve never seen a raucous wine place, and I don’t intend to be the first.”
Sames said he just really liked the location, and since it’s already zoned for it he thought why not, and he’s already found a great couple to operate the place, but if it falls through, he won’t look elsewhere. His family and Pet Lodge are his priorities. For more information, visit www.petlodges.com.
Happy 107th Birthday, Marion Buchanan: Looking Back on War, Women, and Moon Walks
SARATOGA SPRINGS — When you meet Marion Buchanan, you become immediately aware that you are in the presence of a lady in her truest form. Marion’s petite stature belies a tall order of graciousness, and as she takes your coat and shakes your hand, you sense her strong civic duty and know this is a woman who values a good job well done.
Marion was born Dec. 18, 1909 in Dedham, Massachusetts just outside of Boston. A loyal Red Sox fan, the team recently sent her a birthday greeting with some souvenir gifts, including dirt from Fenway Park. She moved to Glenville in 1984, and after selling her home, she moved to Prestwick Chase in Saratoga Springs in 2008, where she is today.
The active 107-year-young woman has a history rich in public service. She is the second child of 7 and has never married, but between all of her nieces, nephews, and their progeny, she says her family numbers around 50.
Marion remembers America’s entry into World War II clearly. It was to be a turning point in her life.
“I was in my living room, listening to the New York Philharmonic, when the announcement came over the radio, we were at war,” recalled Marion. “I was shocked. All the members of my family were, it was totally unexpected.”
She was in her third year at Boston University at the time, working and going to school at night. Not long after that radio announcement, she joined the Women’s Army Corps (WAC).
“I was secretary to the WAC staff director in the European Theater,” said Marion. “When I returned in 1947, I was stationed at the Pentagon for a year and a half. I also served in a bombardier school in Carlsbad, New Mexico. I was an administrative specialist in the personnel division.”
She was thoughtful for a moment, then smiled as she said, “I was scared at first. When I was a child, I suffered from homesickness, but my mother felt I should represent the family and be of service, so she helped me. My brother joined the navy soon after I joined the WACs.”
Marion saw the role of women change dramatically during her life, saying it is very different now from when she first joined the WACs.
“We weren’t accepted,” she said. “We were new, and they thought we wouldn’t be effective. But I think the WACs did a good job, and relieved a lot of the men in their work so they could go off to war.”
She shook her head, saying, “They tell me women still aren’t getting equal pay. One thing I do miss after women’s rights, though, is the respect. It used to be, a man would jump up to let you have his seat.”
As a member of the Greatest Generation, Marion paid attention to current events as a matter of form, and clearly remembers history’s turning points as if they were yesterday.
“I was working for an orthopedic surgeon when a woman called in to speak with her father. She told us Jack Kennedy had been shot,” Marion said seriously. “That was a terrible experience.”
Marion was at the Grand Canyon when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. “I was very proud of my country,” she said, “and very proud of him, certainly. The whole world was watching. I remember getting our bags at the hotel, and the bellhop, who was Chinese, refused to pack our bags until the take-off. I was very proud of Jack Kennedy for having instigated the program.”
Her favorite presidents are Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, and, naturally, John F. Kennedy. She laughed and said, “I’m a Republican and my favorites are all Democrats. But Jack really was an inspiration to so many young people at the time.”
Marion said she has no secret to share for longevity. “I’m here by the grace of God,” she said. “I have done nothing at all to improve my life. I guess I would say it’s important to not take life too seriously, and be happy.” And then she laughed and said, “If I were to do it all over again, I probably would make the same exact mistakes I did the first time.”
Marion, who is fond of classical music and jazz; an avid Bridge player; a world traveler even after the war; a dedicated career woman who wore her hats and gloves with style, and a staunch patriot who has served her country well, has left those of us following behind her some very big shoes to fill. Thank you for your service, Marion Buchanan, and happy birthday.