Open for business, to help business.
That was the theme Monday as the SUNY Fredonia Business Technology Incubator was officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony after SUNY Fredonia President Dennis Hefner served as master of ceremonies to a room packed with many of the people involved in making the facility a reality.
"This is another milestone in the 183-year history of SUNY Fredonia. This incubator building was a long time coming but now it's a reality and that's thanks to the support of so many people who are in this room," Hefner started. " ... SUNY Fredonia, like all universities, is an engine for economic development and when you look at the SUNY system, you'll note, not only are we producing an educated workforce for tomorrow but we're involved in cutting-edge research. We're involved in providing funding within the community. Just SUNY Fredonia alone, our economic impact in Chautauqua County is currently valued at over $300 million a year."
OBSERVER Photos by Gib Snyder
Top: Pictured at the ribbon cutting from left are: Jon Brennan, Mike Brennan, County Executive Greg Edwards, SUNY Fredonia President Dennis Hefner, Congressman Brian Higgins, Dunkirk Mayor Richard Frey, State Sen. Cathy Young, Incubator Director Robert Fritzinger, State Assemblyman Bill Parment, Incubator Advisory Committee Chairman Ron Bowers, and Kurt Maytum from DFT Communications.
Above: SUNY Fredonia President Dennis Hefner enjoys a lighter moment during the ceremony.
Hefner went on to say that in addition to the college helping with grants and contracts, a new dimension was being added.
"We know that in the regular economy that when you have new startups, after five years only 20 percent are still in business," he said. "Well, this incubator is designed to turn that number upside down so that 80 percent will still be in business five years from now. That's what the national statistics show for businesses that start in a university-affiliated incubator."
Located at 214 Central Ave., the incubator provides office space, offers significant shared space including a "smart" conference room, meeting rooms and dry laboratories. The incubator is billed as a one-stop that will provide business development, mentoring and space for up to 30 start-up technology companies. The 21,000-square-foot, two-story facility was built at a cost of almost $6 million.
Hefner introduced Dunkirk Mayor Richard Frey as a partner and the person who had the vision for the city's waterfront. Hefner said an early meeting with Frey, Second Ward Councilman Kevin Muldowney, State Sen Cathy Young and former Dunkirk Development Director Maclain Berhaupt was instrumental.
"They said this facility needs to be in an Empire Development Zone to help small businesses and the place it needs to be is right on Central Avenue, right down by the waterfront," Hefner said. "I agreed and thanks to Mayor Frey, this has become a reality."
Frey took the podium and welcomed and thanked all those who helped, especially Muldowney and Berhaupt.
"They were the engine that started this whole thing. Mac pushed all the right buttons and had all the right connections," Frey said. " ... A year ago now we were sitting in the middle of a field out there digging holes in the dirt. ... To all of you and to everyone here, I want to thank you very much for making this happen in the city of Dunkirk."
State Sen. Cathy Young was introduced as someone who was always ready to help in Albany with the project.
"She's a person who truly believes in economic development, believes in the future of this region," Hefner said in introducing Young.
"It certainly is a time for celebration and this is a great thing to celebrate, isn't it?" she asked. "My hat is off to the mayor of the city of Dunkirk, my friend, Dick Frey. He really has been a tremendous leader. As you look around Dunkirk and ... this particular part, you see the tremendous project that we have been able to make. ... We're really on a roll here when you think about it and this is just the beginning because we've got a lot more to do. This is going to anchor that progress I spoke about."
Young also had high praise for Hefner, saying he got the idea of an incubator in the city right away.
"He understands what it takes to be an economic engine for the region and this building, having it in this particular spot, is going to make a tremendous difference, not only for the college and the university, but for the community here."
Young cited the economy and the state's fiscal crisis as issues precipitating the need for change.
"We have to focus on the economy because that is what's going to get us out of this. ... As we look to change the direction of the state I would say to you that today is a new beginning, because we are starting it right here in Dunkirk, New York. Where we can change things and we can show it can and will be done. ... That focus on technology and the future is just what we need. ... By us working together we can do great things and this is just an example of that."
Hefner introduced Assemblyman Bill Parment as someone who was there at the beginning of the project, introducing the first funding bill for the incubator and following through with others as they were needed.
"I think the taxpayers' money is well invested here," Parment stated. "This is a gamble. This gamble will pay off for the state of New York if we are able to turn the dream into reality. The dream is that we can bring entrepreneurs to this facility, nurture them so that they'll create new businesses which will be spun off and located in Chautauqua County.
"And then we'll be able to see the great benefits that will occur to us because of it."
Next up was Congressman Brian Higgins. Hefner introduced him as a proud Fredonia dad - his son John is a freshman at Fredonia. Hefner said Higgins is an economist who has taught courses in the field.
"What this really is, it provides an academic basis, a technological basis, (with) human and technological infrastructure to help startup companies, and this is a great job-growth engine of the American economy," Higgins said. "People are down today because we're in a severe economic contraction. ... What you should understand about the American economy is, it's the strongest in the world. ... We represent about 30 percent of the world economy as measured by the gross domestic product, despite having 5 percent of the world's population. We are leaders in information technology, in biotechnology, in every cutting-edge technology."
Incubator director Robert Fritzinger also spoke and started by paraphrasing former Buffalo Bills Coach Marv Levy; "There's no place I'd rather be than right here, right now," Fritzinger said. "And I want to tell you why. The life of an entrepreneur is simultaneously extraordinarily difficult and a lot of fun. There's a reason we do this in this country; this is still the frontier."
He added that inside the incubator is where all the necessary aides to entrepreneurs will converge.
"Remember, Intel started with two people, Microsoft started with two people. If we can mitigate the risk a little bit we may see the next Intel right in this county. That's the commitment that we're going to make," he said. "Will it happen? I can't promise you that. Will we try? Absolutely. We have the facility now."
Fritzinger said the building is state-of-the-art.
"The community had something to be extraordinarily proud of, just on the delivery of this facility. What we do next with it, I'm extraordinarily confident about what's going to happen because I've never seen a convergence of political support, business support and university support in one place at one time like this, right here, right now."
One of the highlights of the event was a 'graduation ceremony' for the first graduates of the incubator program, Noobis, Inc. Noobis did its growing in the temporary site and is run by President Jon Brennan and Chief Marketing Officer Mike Brennan, a SUNY Fredonia alumnus.
Moving into the new building at present are seven companies: Cell Text Data Systems; mARTe; SUNY Fredonia Shale Institute; Van Buren Bay cosmetics; Zenhire; Social Entrepreneurship (COPC Initiative); and the SUNY Fredonia and Niigata University Collaboration (International Initiative).
Funding for the incubator came primarily from New York State with $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). More recently, a $300,000 "challenge grant" from the John R. Oishei Foundation was obtained to provide operational support for the incubator, which has already been supported by NRG Dunkirk Power, Lake Shore Savings, DFT Communications and Graf Realty. The city of Dunkirk, the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency, and the Northern Chautauqua County Community Foundation also contributed.