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Robert Manasier: An Entrepreneur’s Focus on Getting Things Done
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.
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.
Michael Patton: Listening, Being Visible, and Learning How Things Work
Patton was single then with extra time on his hands. Having played varsity lacrosse at Penn State, he wanted to stay involved in the game. So, he worked out an arrangement that allowed him to coach lacrosse at Siena College while working full time at GE. So long as he came in early each morning, he could leave early every afternoon to join his team on the practice field.
It wasn't long before Patton felt his passion shifting from human resources to coaching and working with young people. He started wondering: How do I make this a career?
Patton found his answer in educational administration. Named superintendent of the Saratoga Springs School District on Jan. 1, 2018, Patton is now 18 months into a job in which he's responsible for managing 500 teachers and 600 support staff in their efforts to educate 6,300 students in eight buildings.
"Any job is about relationships, and that's especially true in education," he says. "It's about getting to know people and being visible, getting out there and learning how things work.
"Every school district is unique, with its own culture and traditions," he continues. "Each day, I try to carve out some time in my schedule to be in a building, to see students, and to see what impact our teachers are having in the classroom. My job is to make sure we're providing the support that's necessary for effective teaching and learning to take place."
A Proactive Role
Twenty-three years ago, Patton's first step was to quit his GE job and go straight for a graduate degree at the College of St. Rose, which he was able to earn while still coaching at Siena. Upon earning his master's degree in school counseling, he was hired by Ballston Spa High School. There he also coached three sports, launching the varsity lacrosse program that finally would win its first section title last year.
"When you're a school counselor, you're an advocate," he continues. "We had case loads of 350 kids at Ballston Spa. I knew kids from the time they entered as ninth graders to the time they graduated as seniors. You go to college to learn all of the theoretical aspects of counseling, but you graduate and find out that so much of it is connecting with kids and developing relationships. I had the opportunity to establish really close relationships, not just with the students, but with their families as well.
"I loved that job because every day was something different," he says. "I really enjoyed being the cheerleader for kids who didn't come from a lot."
Four jobs later — assistant principal at Ballston Spa High School, principal of Queensbury High School, superintendent of the South Glens Falls School District, and superintendent of the Saratoga Springs School District — Patton sees himself in much the same role.
"Instead of having an impact on 350 kids as a counselor, I now have 6,300 students I am responsible for."
Opportunities for Improvement
Patton knew from his experience in South Glens Falls that he should not attempt to institute sweeping changes in his first year. His focus had to be on listening and establishing effective relationships.
"It's important in any school district to recognize and celebrate the great things that have happened, and to get feedback from all stakeholders, meeting with kids, teachers and parents," he says. "I wanted to get out and listen and provide opportunities for people to provide feedback, identifying areas that were strong and where improvements could be made.”
"I call these 'opportunities for improvement,'" he continues. "If we can instill in everybody the will to improve, we can become a really strong system. We're already one of the top school districts in the Capital Region, but we can always get better.
"We listen to the feedback from our graduates who have gone off to college or entered the workforce and look for ways that we can improve programs and services for our current students.”
"We gather this feedback not only from our students and parents, but from our business partners as well. We're always looking for emerging trends that have an impact on education, making sure we're doing everything we can to better prepare kids.
"When you graduate from high school, we want make sure you have the skills, knowledge and experience to be as successful as you possibly can be."
As a school superintendent, Patton says he must deal with issues today that he could not have imagined 20 years ago when he was a school counselor.
"For example, social media has become a major area for discipline," he says. "Consequently, we have to teach kids how to be appropriate and the serious implications of not thinking things through."
"Everything used to happen pretty much in the open," Patton notes. "Now students are on their phones, and mom and dad don't necessarily know what's going on, nor do teachers. The kids see each other the next day and suddenly there's an altercation that no one saw coming because it was all developing online. This is one of the big things we must keep up with as a school community. How do we educate parents, teachers, and students on the signs we all need to be looking out for?"
School safety is another major source of concern that Patton says was scarcely imaginable 20 years ago -- until the events at Columbine High School woke the nation to the threat posed by active shooters in schools.
In their effort to make their classrooms and hallways safer, schools necessarily are broadening their focus beyond academics to focus on the whole child, says Patton.
"We have a lot more kids coming from challenging financial or family situations. While our focus used to be mostly on the academic side, the needs of our students and their families have completely changed, and so we're taking on a much larger role in providing mental health and family support services.
"Just five years ago, our district didn't have a single social worker. Now we have eight social workers and 13 school psychologists. We also have partnerships with Parsons Child and Family Center for mental health clinics and partnerships with the Prevention Council both for substance abuse and alcohol prevention programming and direct assistance to students who are struggling with those issues.
"We're figuring out how to take care of these essential human needs first," Patton continues. "The only way we can do that is to partner with parents and help provide educational opportunities for parents so they can figure out how to connect with them when their kids are prepared to learn. Overall, we've put more resources into mental health and student support services over the last five years than any other area.
"There are 700 public school systems in New York, and we're all committed to providing a learning environment where students feel connected and safe at school. Our goal is to continue on that path, but we also have to be honest and realize that things have changed. We'll continue to update our policies and procedures, but we also need to make sure that everyone shares in the responsibility to keep our students safe. We'll find our best solutions when people understand that it's best to work together and look to continuously improve."
The Rev. Joseph Cleveland: Expanding Our 'Theological Savvy'
He grew up grew up in Minnesota and attended St. John's University, a Catholic institution, in Collegeville, earning his bachelor's degree in English with a minor in philosophy. He had started as a physics major but soon found that his passion for words exceeded his interest in particles and waves. He decided to become a college professor, and so he came east to Syracuse University to earn his master's degree in English.
Cleveland had been exposed to music as a child, becoming a trumpet player in sixth grade. But he became passionate about the guitar in college and graduate school. While he was determined to teach, his love for folk music pulled him in another direction entirely.
A Space for Music
The Crowleys hired Cleveland, just three years out of college, to manage the series. It evolved into Folkus and it's still Central New York's leading venue for folk and acoustic music. After establishing Folkus as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in 2000, Cleveland brought the series to the May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society in Syracuse in 2003.
"She was a member of the congregation who was putting together an alternative worship experience called "Soulful Sundowns," Cleveland recalls. "She was tasked with looking for someone to do music and someone suggested she give me a call."
He didn’t know anything about Unitarian Universalism, but he loved what he calls the "openness" of the faith and was in seminary by 2009, on his way to becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister.
“I was amazed by the eagerness to look for spiritual inspiration from all kinds of places and sources as well as the openness to world religions, science, and one’s own intuition. I couldn’t get enough of it. So here I am.”
“Saratoga Springs was looking for someone, and it turned out we liked each other and so they called me to start out here,” he says. Kristin found her religious home at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady, where she serves as congregational life coordinator.
The 'Network of Mutuality'
A Sanctuary Congregation
Last year, UU Saratoga became a Sanctuary Congregation, joining the growing national effort to protect and stand with immigrants facing deportation. Members pledge to protect immigrant families who face workplace discrimination or unjust deportation. Unitarian Universalists nationally are joining the many religious leaders, congregations, and faith-based organizations of all denominations who are a part of this movement.
“I don’t think loving your neighbor as you love yourself looks like building a wall between you both,” Cleveland adds. “We try to create the beloved community and stand up when we think that people are being disrespected and harmed.”
A 'World of Respect'
To get there, we all must expand what Cleveland calls our "theological savvy.”
"I’m trying to give people a set of tools to become more nimble at creating meaning in their lives."
Michelle Tsao: Creating Balance to Support Different Paths
Michelle Tsao keeps her focus on the students.
Deciding that a career in accounting was not for her, she switched majors, a step that ultimately took her into education and set her on the path that 20 years later would lead to Saratoga Springs High School. She'll mark her first anniversary as SSHS principal July 1.
"Imagine if I never did that internship," she says. "I would have put in four years toward a degree in accounting, gotten a job in that field, and then figured out that I'd prepared for a job I didn't want to do. That's why it's really important for young people to have opportunities to explore different things. The more connections we can build as a community, the more opportunities our students will have to explore what they want to do in the future."
"I would get to travel and visit different countries," she says. But the prospect of teaching appealed even more to her. After her college experience, Tsao realized that sharing her interest in finance with young adults could be a viable career. So, she set herself to earning her masters in education at UAlbany, and became a teacher of economics at Ballston Spa High School.
"I loved economics and I wanted to make my students love it, too," she says.
A Passion for Working with Students
As much as she loved the classroom, Tsao also enjoyed the challenge of figuring out systems and ways to make them work better. That led to assistant principal positions in the Queensbury Union Free School District and at Shenendehowa High School, and a principalship at Averill Park High School. In announcing her appointment at SSHS, Superintendent of Schools Michael Patton praised her "strong instructional leadership experience, collaborative approach, and passion for working with students.”
"When I was teaching economics, I was exploring how I might improve the teaching of economics, or how to more clearly show the relevance of economics. Now the question is: How can I improve the overall learning experience? How can I facilitate all of the different pieces that come into play in making the experience better?"
Saratoga's principal maintains a view of the big picture as she considers a student's lifelong learning path. "I think not just about the high school, but the middle school and the elementary school," she says. "I like to think about the systems -- how one supports the other and how one can also break the other. It's all about communication and collaboration, and how do we work as a school system to help and prepare our students?"
Whether it's a new internship program, a new technology, or a new pedagogical approach, Tsao will be inclined to try it.
"You have to take risks and try new things," she says. "That's what echoes for students, teachers, and administrators." Tsao believes the work of trying new things breeds collaboration. Everyone celebrates the victories and learns from the mistakes.
"One of the biggest fears that people have is that you're going to try something new in the classroom and it fails. That's when you have to decide whether you're going to give up on technology because it didn't work or you're going to figure out what happened and what you can do to make it work. That’s the difference between the growth mindset and the fixed mindset. I always try to be creative."
Partnerships with Global Foundries, SUNY Adirondack, and others are among the new things Tsao is exploring to give students the opportunity to try out career paths and "get a better sense of what they want to do post-high school."
"The more connections we can build as a community, the better students can explore what they might want to do in the future and to be exposed to different experiences. We have to create balance because everyone has a different path," says Tsao.
In a large city school district like SSCSD, Tsao knows it is especially important to create pathways to success for students with varied interests and backgrounds.
"There are so many students like this who feel like they have to do something because it is societally normal for that to happen, but that doesn't mean it's for everyone. You can take your time to get there, and however old you are when you go back to school is fine. It's really hard for people to decide what they want to do at the age of 18."
SSHS has many valuable resources from which students can benefit, including textbooks, advancing technology, and internship programs to help students gain real-world experience.
"We still need textbooks as an equalizing factor," Tsao notes. "Not all of our students have access to technology at all homes. So, the textbook creates equal access to learning.”
Success is not achieved through technological awareness alone. Tsao acknowledges the faculty and staff play the most important role in determining student outcomes through their commitment to innovative teaching practice.
"We're focusing on the basic foundations that will help our students be successful," Tsao continues. "Whether I go to work for Hannaford or join the military, if I can work with other people, and not be dismissive of other people’s ideas, then I can be a successful person, no matter what I do."
As new job pathways arise, especially in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) fields, high school educators work to convey computational thinking skills and specific knowledge sets. "The specialty skills are the hard part," Tsao adds. "So, we have many programs to meet different demands -- from Advanced Placement to Project Lead the Way."
Of course, to prepare students for careers in STEM fields, secondary schools must be prepared for change. "We need to have students develop skills with different types of technology. That requires planning because we know that over time we are going to have to update our machines. We're going to have to replace them."
And that will be a challenge given the budgetary outlook. "We aren’t going to see any increase in revenue; so, we’re going to have to figure out how we balance all of the needs," she notes.
Asked what she would like her legacy at SSHS to be, Tsao thinks for a moment and says, "I would want people to think that I always thought of the students first. Whatever the program, whatever the extracurricular activity, I would want them to know it was always for the students first."
Kelsey Briddell: Athlete of the Week
Joey Laurer: Athlete of the Week
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Springs High School’s varsity pitcher Joey Laurer learns dedication and time management from his familial inspirations.
Amnesty International Club of Saratoga High Presents Voices for Unity
SARATOGA SPRINGS - Starting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 11, the Amnesty International Club at Saratoga Springs High School presents their second annual Voices for Unity panel in the Saratoga Springs High School auditorium. This event is free to attend but donations are welcome. The panel will include speakers discussing their journey as a refugee from the Congo and the rise in white supremacism.
There will also be a bake sale, Q&A session after each panelist, photo booth, art gallery, and a guest performance.
Saratoga Teen Who Sparked Monday Search Apprehended, “Hid Gun in Garage” After Domestic Dispute
by Thomas Dimopoulos
WILTON - A 16-year-old Saratoga Springs High School student, believed to having gone missing with a handgun shortly before noon on Monday, was found and taken into custody without incident near his Wilton home on Route 9 early Monday evening. He did not have the handgun with him at the time.
“He got into an argument with his mom inside the house. He had the gun and she locked herself in a room. Prior to his leaving the house, he hid the gun in the garage,” said Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo. “She last saw him with it, so we assumed he had it.”
Police conducted a search for the teen that covered a three-mile area around Route 9/ Maple Avenue and Northern Pines Road, that involved NY State Police, Saratoga Springs Police, state Park Police, as well the county Sheriff’s Department and a New York State Police Aviation unit helicopter.
Maple Ave Middle School, Dorothy Nolan Elementary School, SUNY Adirondack Wilton Center, and Skidmore College, as well as childcare centers in the area were all placed on precautionary lockout. Afternoon and evening events at the schools were cancelled, including a mayoral debate that was slated to take place at the high school.
“He was taken to Saratoga Hospital for a mental evaluation. Because he made suicidal comments prior to leaving the house, our main concern was safety – his safety and with (potentially) a gun the safety of others,” said Zurlo, who would not comment at this time as to whether the handgun is legally registered. “We’re going to determine (Tuesday) whether any charges will be brought.”
Saratoga Springs Student Believed Missing with Handgun Taken Into Custody
WILTON - A 16-year-old Saratoga Springs High School student believed to had gone missing with a handgun shortly before noon on Monday was found and taken into custody near his Wilton home early Monday evening.
"We were able to locate the young man today right near his residence and take him into custody, without an issue. He’s been cooperative and the firearm he had has been recovered,” Saratoga County Sheriff's Department Investigations LT. Jeff Brown said, early Monday night.
Police conducted a search for the teen, Bryce Byno, that covered a three-mile area around Route 9/ Maple Avenue and Northern Pines Road, that involved NY State Police, Saratoga Springs Police, state Park Police, as well the county Sheriff’s Department and a New York State Police Aviation unit helicopter.
Maple Ave Middle School, Dorothy Nolan Elementary School, SUNY Adirondack Wilton Center, and Skidmore College, as well as childcare centers in the area were all placed on precautionary lockout. Afternoon and evening events at the schools were cancelled, including a mayoral debate that was slated to take place at the high school. The middle school and high school began dismissal at approximately 3 p.m. District elementary schools were dismissed on time, however, buses were delayed by approximately 60 minutes, according to The Saratoga Springs City School District
Byno is believed to have left his house 11:15 Monday morning with a handgun, following a domestic dispute. Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo said no specific threat was made to others, but added the teen has had "a tendency toward suicidal threats." Zurlo would not comment whether the handgun was legally registered.
The county Sheriff's Department said Monday night the investigation ongoing, and Brown thanked the community and the school district for their cooperation.
Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo, Monday afternoon. Photo by Thomas Dimopoulos.
Representing New York: Saratoga Student Chosen for Prestigious Medical Conference
SARATOGA SPRINGS – One local scholar is on his way to a bright future in the field of medicine.
Matias Kivi, a sophomore at Saratoga Springs High, has been chosen to attend the Congress of Future Medical Leaders in Lowell, Mass., from June 25-27 as a delegate from New York State. According to Kivi, only a handful of young people are selected to attend from each state. While there are a number of other delegates from N.Y., Kivi is the only one from the Saratoga County area. Dr. Robert Darling, the Medical Director of the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists, nominated Kivi for the Congress, based on his “academic achievements, leadership potential and determination to serve humanity in the field of medicine,” according to a press release from the Academy.
The aim of the congress is to motivate and direct honors-level high school students across the country that are interested in pursuing a career in medicine. Kivi’s ultimate goal is to become a cardiac surgeon, which he said is inspired by his grandmother’s recent bought with heart problems, as well as a general respect for the bravery of surgeons.
“I’m pretty excited,” Kivi said. “It’ll be a long drive down there, but I’m excited to see what’s really going to be there and all the people I’m going to meet. I’m interested to see who else is going to be there who is about my age and what they do as well.”
At the Congress, Kivi will meet with other young aspiring medical practitioners from across the country and have the opportunity to learn from industry leaders. There will be talks given by Nobel Laureates and winners of the National Medal of Science. Deans from Ivy League and other top institutions will be on hand to advise the young delegates on what to expect from medical schools. Patients said to be “living medical miracles” will be present to share their stories. There will also be opportunities for the delegates to learn about the latest advances in the fields of medicine and medical technology.
Some of the major medical leaders attending the congress include Dr. Pardis Sabeti, who used real-time DNA sequencing during the most recent outbreak of Ebola to prove that the disease spreads through humans and not animals, and Dr. Bohdan Pomahac, the first surgeon to perform a full face transplant in the United States. The delegates will also hear from Carmen Tarleton, the fifth recipient of a full face transplant in the U.S. Kivi and his fellow delegates will also have the opportunity to watch a live surgery streamed to the congress from a nearby hospital.
Kivi learned that he had been nominated for the congress by Darling last summer. As becoming a delegate for the congress was not something he sought out, it came as a pleasant surprise. Kivi noted his high mark on the Biology S.A.T., which he took last year, and his consistently high marks in high-level A.P. courses as factors beyond his interest in pursuing a medical career that might have caught Darling’s eye. Kivi is also a part of Saratoga Hospital’s “Students Sharing Opportunities and Responsibilities” (SSOAR) volunteer summer program for high school students.
Kivi has already visited and number of colleges, including Georgetown and Utah University, and will be visiting Northwestern sometime over the summer.
“I’m really proud of him doing this,” Di Kivi, Matias’s mother, said. “Because he’s worked very hard, he’s very good student, and he keeps a good balance in his life, and he deserves this. It’s well-earned.”
Photo by Thomas Kika.