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SUNY Fredonia Tech Incubator is open for business in new $6 million building

SUNY Fredonia Technology Incubator
A few snowflakes didn't stop the new SUNY Fredonia Business Technology Incubator from officially opening. The state-of-the-art facility in downtown Dunkirk will support up to 30 start-up companies which have a technology-based business model and a commitment to Western New York.

The long-awaited SUNY Fredonia Business Technology Incubator opened its doors on Dec. 21 to much fanfare among business, government, university and community leaders who have worked together since 2006 to create one of the most exciting and potential-filled economic development projects in Chautauqua County history. 

The nearly $6 million facility, located at 214 Central Ave. in downtown Dunkirk, is capable of providing support and shared services to as many as 30 start-up companies at a time, thereby increasing the odds of each company’s survival — and increasing the chances for economic growth in Western New York.

“Normally, a start-up company has a one in five chance of succeeding,” SUNY Fredonia President Dennis L. Hefner told those in attendance Monday morning. “However, when that start-up is affiliated with a university incubator, historically that ratio increases to four in five. That’s what this facility represents: the chance to turn that ratio around, and turn our region’s economy around in the process.”

A partnership between the university, regional government and economic development organizations, the incubator provides start-up and spin-off companies with targeted resources and shared, common business functions such as accounting, marketing and legal services. In return, the tenant companies must meet only two criteria: have technology as a significant component of their business model, and be willing to remain in Western New York after they become stand-alone entities.

“Small business success is critical to building our local economy and creating quality jobs here in Western New York,” said U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins, who helped secure federal funds for the project. “Through this innovative initiative, SUNY Fredonia and the city of Dunkirk are leading the way in providing start-up companies with the infrastructure and resources that provide the solid foundation necessary for long term business growth.”

State Senator Catharine Young echoed those remarks, stating, “This is certainly a time for celebration, and this is a great thing to celebrate.”  New York State is faced with many economic issues, she explained, but programs like these provide a means through which that can change. “Today is a new beginning here in Dunkirk,” she added, “and this new facility shows that [economic progress] can and will be done.”

In addition to office space and services, the 21,000-square-foot, two-story building offers significant shared space, including a “smart” conference room, meeting rooms and laboratories. The facility provides support to companies for up to three years until, assuming they succeed, they will “graduate” and be guided to settle in Western New York.

“Our goal was to create an incubator that would promote economic growth in the western Southern Tier of New York,” Hefner continued. “We are accomplishing this by supporting young, innovative, technology-based companies with mentoring, consulting, physical space, and access to capital.”
 Five start-ups were introduced as the inaugural class of tenants: Cell Text Data Systems (CTDS), the Fredonia Shale Institute, Van Buren Bay Cosmetics, mArté and Zenhire. In addition, the founders of social media developer Noobis — a graduate from the temporary facility — were on hand as an example of the success the new facility hopes to share with many other entrepreneurs.

“Once they are economically viable and capable of operating independently, these companies will create jobs, revitalize neighborhoods and strengthen regional economies,” new incubator Director Robert Fritzinger said. Fritzinger, who has much experience in starting up companies of his own, is also the founder and chairman of Zenhire, a search engine technology innovator which operates in the human resources industry. He and his team are presently in negotiations with several other entities which are considering entering into lease agreements with the new facility.

State Assemblyman William Parment, one of the first people to join the university in project discussions, called the new facility, “a gamble which will pay off if we turn that dream into a reality.”  He also called it an effective new tool for economic development, and asked those in attendance to continue thinking about other tools the community could use, encouraging the audience to contact him and share those ideas.

As the first true campus extension of SUNY Fredonia — the third-largest four-year university in Western New York — the incubator also presents unique opportunities for the campus community as well, including internships and jobs for its students, as well as research, teaching and collaboration initiatives for its faculty and staff.

An example is the Fredonia Shale Institute, a dream of Geosciences Professor Gary Lash, who has been at the forefront of natural gas and oil research within the Appalachian Mountains and other regions for decades.

“This is a unique opportunity to foster a strong working relationship among the college, industry and the community,” Dr. Lash agreed. “For example, the Shale Institute is working with members of the natural gas industry, including a number of Fredonia alums, on funding initiatives to support research that would involve students. We’re also working with a major industry player to bring its mobile education unit to Western New York to inform high school students and the public about natural gas exploration.”

The new facility was built with many “green” initiatives in mind. It incorporates numerous sustainable design elements, including a white roof and energy management system. Its mechanical systems were fully commissioned (tested and proven for efficiency) prior to opening, and the construction materials were recycled. Its laboratories are classified as “dry labs,” meaning that there are no harsh chemicals or heavy machinery involved. It was also erected in a dense development area and is well-integrated with existing downtown infrastructure, ensuring a social symbiosis with the community that makes it more environmentally friendly.

The incubator has been made possible by the generous support of local, state and federal assistance. New York State pledged $4.7 million in bonded funds for the new building and a federal appropriation from the Department of Housing and Urban Development was also obtained. An additional $605,000 in programming support came from a grant from the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology, and Innovation (NYSTAR). In addition, a $300,000 “challenge grant” from the John R. Oishei Foundation was obtained to provide operational support for the incubator, which has subsequently been supported by NRG Dunkirk Power, Lake Shore Savings, DFT Communications, Graf Realty and Nestlé Purina. Significant support has also been received from Chautauqua County sources including the city of Dunkirk, the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency, and the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation.

posted @ Tuesday, January 26, 2010 10:49 AM by Christine Davis Mantai

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