Tech Incubators Hatching Startups Across Long Island

Biocogent, a provider of biotech-based products and services to the personal care and cosmetic industries, is an anchor at Stony Brook University’s Long Island High Technology Incubator. (John Griffin, Stony Brook University)

The state’s Start-Up NY program may be a bit of a dud, but that hasn’t slowed the pace of other university-based programs that seek to support and commercialize innovation from students, staff and the region’s sundry entrepreneurs.

The latest: Long Island University’s Post campus, where nationally renowned startup expert Dane Stangler has taken the Vorzimer Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship and will help steer the school’s T. Denny Sanford innovation institute. He will continue to dabble in innovation policy at the Startup Genome and the Progressive Policy Institute, bringing cutting-edge wonkery to Brookville.

At Stony Brook University, where more than 50 companies are already being nurtured in incubators both brick and virtual, economic development officials have just landed $75 million for a center to commercialize medical devices and other technology. Called I-DIME, for Discovery and Innovation in Medicine & Engineering, the center should be up and operating by 2019, joining SBU programs that support software, biotechnology, clean energy, foodtech and more.

The university is also beginning to make the rounds to find funding to expand its advanced energy center, long packed to the rafters.

Hofstra University, home of the richest student business plan contest in the nation, will add a cutting-edge incubator next year as its new 50,000-square-foot business school opens. Until then, the university’s Center for Entrepreneurship is rocking – literally – with a student-run recording business and new grants for entrepreneur assistance. The recording label, Mane Records, recently signed IzzeYe, the Hofstra alum and “groovy rap” artist previously known as Rashaan Perkins.

Although modest when compared to the 110,000 square feet of incubation at SBU, the 8,000-square-foot Entrepreneurship & Technology Innovation Center at NYIT punches above its weight, with programs focused on energy, information technology and cyberspace, bioengineering and medical devices. NYIT is also collaborating with EdTech, a San Francisco-based education technology company, on a virtual reality project and is partnering with NASA.

“That is our philosophy: a university-industry partnership model with companies of various sizes and at various stages of their development,” said Dr. Nada Marie Anid, dean of the School of Engineering and Computing Sciences at NYIT.

Since opening in 2014, the incubator has graduated Andium, a provider of cloud and mobile services for building management and oil and gas automation, and Scinor, a Chinese manufacturer of water filtration membranes.

NYIT launched the program with $400,000 from the state’s New York Open for Business program, followed by $1.2 million from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, making the ETIC the only state and federally funded incubator on the island. The state’s economic development arm also kicked in $625,000 for resident and partner companies for business planning services, legal counsel, training and other uses.

Despite those successes, questions continue to dog local incubator programs, mostly over the huge cost and slow return on investment. Many of the darts have been aimed at the Start-Up NY program, which offers tax breaks and other bennies to entrepreneurs who agree to move on campus and create jobs.

Four years in, the state continues to defend its track record, despite having spent millions to create jobs that missed goal by 80 percent. The program’s kick-off national advertising program cost $53 million alone.

Start-Up NY was especially lackluster on Long Island, where more than half of the 28 participating companies either withdrew or were kicked out for violating guidelines. Some moved to other states.

But Jason Conwall, a spokesman for the state’s economic development agency, said it is premature to judge the program’s performance.

“Put simply, this is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said. “Starting, growing or relocating a business and hiring employees does not happen overnight.”

By Conwall’s math, participating companies around the state have earned only $6 million in tax benefits from the program while investing $44 million and paying nearly $96 million in wages.

Start-Up NY aside, Long Island continues to underwhelm many observers, who point to the region’s rich technological past, its internationally acclaimed research labs and potent education sector and wonder why its entrepreneurial ecosystem is so anemic.

It’s not for lack of talent: The Island has also continued to grow its technology labor market, which jumped 24 percent from 2011 to 2016, according to CBRE’s annual Scoring Tech Talent Report. Long Island’s millennial population grew 8.7 percent from 2010 to 2015, nearly double the U.S. average, and the New York metro area was the top region nationwide for tech degree completions between 2014 and 2015, according to the report.

Ellen Rudin, managing director of CBRE’s Long Island offices, said there is an ideal combination of a highly educated and talented workforce in the region, which is located close to Manhattan and top business centers in adjoining states.

“Due to these attributes, as well as other changes to the Long Island region, like the planned transit-oriented developments, Long Island’s technology sector should continue to grow in the coming years,” she said.

For a region that’s spent four decades trying to replace its defense industry, “coming years” sounds downright promising.