February 08, 2011
By: by Eric Anderson, Business Editor, Times Union
TROY -- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a pioneer in campus-based business incubators when it launched its first one on Peoples Avenue in 1980, on Monday unveiled its Emerging Ventures Ecosystem, an incubation program that will support young businesses but won't have them all under one roof.
RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson described is as "an engine to drive innovation from the lab to the marketplace."
EVE, as it's being called, will have a central office at the Rice building, 216 River St., in downtown Troy. But businesses will be located in available spaces throughout the city and neighboring communities.
This could give downtowns such as Troy's an economic shot in the arm.
Dick Frederick, a successful entrepreneur who teaches at RPI, will oversee the program. Frederick has been working on launching the Eastern New York Angels, a venture fund to support new businesses in and around the Capital Region. He said after the news conference that he hopes to launch a similar investment fund that would be alumni-based and similar to those at such schools as Cornell and Stanford.
EVE will provide entrepreneurs with a structured program of goals and objectives, access to the school's Entrepreneurs in Residence and other resources, a help desk, monthly CEO roundtable discussions, and funding and networking opportunities, all in an effort to improve their chances for success.
Government officials also voiced their support. Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino said the county's industrial development agency would explore ways to provide financial help to cover startup costs and help them retrofit office space and gain access to information technology.
Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian said the city would work with the program to attract and retain businesses.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has been a supporter of incubators around the state, and Frank Murray, who heads NYSERDA, said the five incubators it has funded have 170 companies operating and creating jobs.
Among them is the incubator for energy companies at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University at Albany.
RPI spokesman Mark Marchand said as many as 15 companies already are involved in the new program.
Laban Coblentz, Rensselaer chief of staff and associate vice president for policy and planning, estimated as many as 35 to 40 startups are formed each year at RPI. EVE, he believes, could boost that number.
RPI students and faculty have launched a wide range of successful companies, including MapInfo and Vicarious Visions, which now employ hundreds of people locally.
Tobi Saulnier, the founder of 1st Playable Productions, a video gaming company in downtown Troy, talked about working for another startup during her days as a student at RPI in the 1980s. She turned to the incubator to launch her company, which now employs 45 people.
Another Rensselaer entrepreneur, Eben Bayer, the CEO of Green Island-based Ecovative Design, received a technology pioneer award last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. His company, which produces biodegradable insulating and packing material, has been expanding and adding jobs.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, who also spoke, talked about the growth of innovation in the Capital Region.
"When we look at the investments being made here," he said, "this is an opportunity for us all to prosper."