May 04, 2012

Albany Nanocollege Will Expand Competition To Breed More Startups

By: Richard D'Errico, Web Editor

Source: The Business Review

The New York State Business Plan Competition is changing its format to include 10 regional contests as part of a plan to promote startup activity across the state.

Next year 10 regional competitions will be held across the state and the top regional winners will get a shot at the big prize in a competition at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

This year’s day-long event, also held at the nanocollege, included more than 120 teams or companies from 25 colleges pitching their business plans and competing for more than $150,000 in prizes.

In 2010, 12 teams from five colleges participated. Last year, 33 teams from 13 colleges participated.

Michael Castellana, CEO of SEFCU, said private industry will have to contribute money to support the multiple competitions and provide prize money.

“We’re going to need half a million [dollars] to go statewide,” Castellana.

The credit union provided $100,000 to sponsor the 2012 competition.

Pradeep Haldar, vice president of clean energy programs at the nanocollege, called the event a blockbuster.

The event was so large—drawing a crowd of 400—that it had to be held at two locations on the nanocollege’s Albany NanoTech campus.

The grand winner, Strong Arm Technologies, will receive $40,000 in cash and $20,000 in in-kind services. Winners in various categories won prizes ranging from $1,500 to $10,000.

“Next year this is going to be an even bigger competition,” Haldar said.

The 2013 competition at this point would hold 10 regional rounds including the Mohawk Valley, Finger Lakes and the Mid Hudson areas of the state.

Regionalizing the business plan competitions mirrors the goals of the regional economic development councils created last year by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said Castellana, co-chair of the Capital Region’s economic development council.

The initiative is part of an effort to change New York’s image as being unfriendly to business and support those regions hardest hit by the recession.

“What we’re trying to do is invest in our community,” Castellana said of SEFCU’s sponsorship. “If these students and their innovations are located here in the Capital Region, then we all win. And that’s what this is really all about.”

Castellana has been part of the talks about broadening the competition. The next step is getting the other regional economic development councils to endorse the plan.

The private sector needs to step up, Castellana said.

“Too often we have relied on the government sector to be that organization that’s going to come forward and try and solve all the problems,” he said. “We’re in a new normal and that doesn’t work anymore.”

Haldar expects more than 300 teams will compete in the regional competitions. Of those, 100 teams will be invited to compete at CNSE next spring.

“What we’re trying to do is build the innovation and entrepreneurship culture across the state, starting at the college level—or before that,” Haldar said. “This is the vision.”

CNSE is playing a central role in that vision to cultivate startups statewide.

“The fact that CNSE is starting to have statewide impact is important,” Haldar said. “We have operations now in Rochester and activities in Syracuse and the Saratoga region as well as Utica and relationships in New York City and the Hudson Valley Region. ... It makes sense for us to connect all the dots with academic institutions and to work collaboratively to try and advance entrepreneurship across New York state.”

Jamison McLaughlin, 31, didn’t travel far to participate in this year’s competition. He’s a student at the nanocollege. His company, Multi Junction Thin Film Technologies, a solar cell research and development company, was not a finalist, but McLaughlin still saw the benefit in participating.

“It’s just good to practice pitching your idea to potential investors,” he said.

Steve Lobel, an investor with the $850,000 Eastern New York Angels investment fund, was a judge at last year’s event. This year, he was a spectator.

“The size, scope and range of the presenters here,” he said, “it’s putting us on the map.”