May 18, 2012
NYS Business Plan Competition: Key Factor to Increasing Investment in New York Start-ups?
By: Peg Zokowski
“In 2011, Governor Cuomo charged every region of our state with developing a strategic plan to prioritize the region’s economic development efforts and to capitalize on its strengths. Across the state, regions underscored the importance of continuing to foster a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. The colleges and universities of our great state are a central part of that effort. We’re proud that more than 1.2 million students have chosen to enroll in our 270 colleges and universities and we want to do all we can to support their entrepreneurial efforts.”—Leecia R. Eve, Deputy Secretary for Economic Development, State of New York
Already the largest of its kind in New York, and one of the largest collegiate business plan competitions in the country, the NYS Business Plan Competition could quickly become one of the most effective tools in building a more collaborative innovation ecosystem across the state and increase investment in New York student start-ups—upstate, as well as downstate. Since its first running in 2010, the competition has grown nearly ten-fold. This year, 105 emerging student-led startups from 25 New York universities competed for more than $150,000 in prize money and in-kind services.
Hosted by the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering’s (CNSE) at the University of Albany in Albany and sponsored by SEFCU, the Competition was presented jointly by the UAlbany NanoCollege, Syracuse University, UAlbany’s School of Business, and the Lally School of Management and Technology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. It is The panel of judges this year drew over 30 regional and national venture capitalists, angel investors, investment bankers, private and public investors, and seasoned entrepreneurs.
Professor Gina O’Connor, and director of the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute said, “Being part of the planning committee for this has been extremely rewarding, both because of the opportunity to interact with my colleagues on the planning committee in this great common effort, and to see the increased levels of competiveness and diversity in business ideas that have occurred over the past several years.”
Strong Arm Technologies of Rochester Institute of Technology won the competition’s grand prize of $50,000 in cash and $20,000 in in-kind services. The company is developing a garment that helps reduce fatigue and risk for employees lifting heavy objects. Innovative Delivery Systems of Clarkson University, ShowCode of Syracuse University, and SofGrip Robotics of Cornell each won their respective tracks and took home $10,000 in cash and more than $2,000 in in-kind services.
Robert Delman, a managing director in the New York office of Golden Seeds, a national Angel network of over 240 Angel investors focused on empowering women entrepreneurs, thought the quality of the presentations in the competition were “extremely well done.” More important, he noted that, “The companies were focused on the revenue model and crossed several industries.”
Thirty percent of the participating companies were women-led or co-led by women, which was in line with a Kauffman report, Overcoming the Gender Gap: Women Entrepreneurs as Economic Drivers, that showed women account for “…about 35 percent of the people who get involved in starting a business.”
Delman said Golden Seeds was following up with a number of the ventures founded by women who competed. Business models cut across several industries ranging from revolutionizing the traditional orchestra listening experience and creating your own designer wardrobe by accessing up and coming designers, to providing local brewers with fresh organic hops.
New look for 2013
Next year’s Competition will be held April 27, 2013, in Albany, but will expand to feature each of the state’s 10 major regions. A selected champion university will host a semi-final competition in each of these regions (or a combination of the regions) in early April. The top teams from each of the regional zones will then be invited to the state competition where the teams will go head-to-head for the grand prize.
Delman agreed that the competition, and especially its new format, could help build momentum for the competition and draw downstate investment in upstate start-ups. “Albany is a central location, and three hours travel time is not a problem for me to get up there and back in a day. Golden Seeds is interested in expanding investment upstate and would love to increase its exposure.”
Excell Partners noted in its February 2009 report, Venture Capital & Seed Activity in NYS, that New York ranks third in the nation for capital under management, and that while New York VC firms controlled 12 percent of the total venture capital under management nationally, 91 percent of their deployed capital went out of state.
Asked what New York State can do to retain and cultivate student-led start-ups in New York, Leecia Eve, deputy secretary for economic development for New York State said, “Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York State is doing a better of job of forging and solidifying relationships between our colleges and universities…and venture capitalists and Angel investors. We’re doing this in a number of areas, from biotech to advanced manufacturing. New York State also funds a range of programs, such as our Centers for Advanced Technology…[and] our Regional Technology Development Centers. We are continuing, however, to explore and implement creative ways to support student-led start-ups in particular and we’re working every day to remove unnecessary regulatory burdens that stifle economic growth, for businesses both new and mature.”