Incubator highlights milestones in promoting entrepreneurship, economic development

At a recent meeting at the Fredonia Technology Incubator (FTI), incubator Director Chuck Cornell discussed the progress made in fulfilling the incubator’s mission to promote economic growth by supporting entrepreneurship and the development of new, innovative companies into successful business ventures. The sixteen startup companies currently enrolled as FTI clients are taking advantage of expanded program and support services. As a result of the clients served, educational and entrepreneurial programing, and community events, the incubator is emerging as a center of activity for economic development in Northern Chautauqua County.

“We have seen tremendous progress in both cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit in this region and supporting entrepreneurs as they launch their businesses,” said Chuck Cornell, Director of FTI. “In addition, the economic development activity spurred by the presence of the IDA and other key economic development organizations has made the incubator more attractive to entrepreneurs, and assisted in aligning the university’s economic development program, including StartUp NY, with the regional goals.”

Over the last three years, the Fredonia Technology Incubator has greatly expanded the support it offers to clients. FTI now provides administrative and business services, mentoring, networking, professional consulting, educational opportunities, paths to funding, and work ready space. The development of a robust mentoring program has been one key addition. Several experienced community members have joined the mentoring program and are assisting the entrepreneurs housed at the incubator.

The incubator also launched its Entrepreneurial Education Program to provide entrepreneurial workshops, seminars and featured speakers for clients and community members. In addition, FTI’s Arts and Business Luncheon speaker series offers entrepreneurs and artists a view into how successful artisans manage the business side of their craft. Nationally recognized artists, such as Albert Paley, have shared their art and business experiences with students, faculty and community members. Another mechanism for strengthening support for clients and the community is the recent addition of an experienced entrepreneur to assist clients as an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR). Finally, the incubator routinely hosts networking events to provide educational and business opportunities to both clients and the community.

In 2014, the incubator began to add economic development tenants to its program to both enhance the services to its clients, and to create a regional economic development hub. To date the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency (CCIDA), the County Planning and Economic Development Department, the Northern Chautauqua County Community Foundation’s Community Economic Development Specialist, the Chautauqua County Land Bank Corporation, and BOCES Workforce Development program are now all housed at the incubator.

“Through this unique collaboration and community engagement, we have stimulated economic activity at our incubator,” said Dr. Kevin Kearns, Vice President of Engagement and Economic Development. “Under Chuck Cornell’s leadership, the incubator has made steady progress over the last three years. We look forward to continued development”

In an effort to retain local talent and provide an opportunity to Fredonia students, the incubator established an annual student business competition two years ago. The competition provides students the opportunity to submit a business proposal and compete for admittance into the incubator. The competition complements other student-based entrepreneurial initiatives in Western New York and has been supported by AT&T. Currently, three student businesses are incubator clients as a result of this program and the third annual competition is underway with the finals scheduled for the spring.

The Fredonia Technology Incubator’s progress has been made possible through grant funding secured over the last three years. Recent grants include a $300,000 matching from the John R. Oishei Foundation, and a three year $375,000 matching award from the New York State Incubator and Innovation Hot Spot Program. This funding has allowed the incubator to add two additional staff members and to expand programming and services and community outreach. FTI is now a New York State Certified Business Incubator.

“If you want to start your own business, there is no better place than the Fredonia Technology Incubator,” said Ted Sharon, CEO of Venture Productions, an incubator client. “The business resources and mentoring I have received have accelerated our growth and invigorated my employees. The support and resources have continually increased since I became a client a few years ago.”

The Incubator is part of Fredonia’s Division of Engagement and Economic Development (EED), established in 2013 to facilitate and support university-community collaborations that enhance the intellectual, cultural, artistic and economic vibrancy of the region. Such collaborations include active community engagement and partnerships with local and regional organizations, governments, businesses and universities.